Public wants Obama to challenge unpopular GOP

The latest Pew Research Center report includes an enormous amount of polling data, much of pointing in familiar directions — the public is frustrated and deeply unhappy with nearly everyone and everything. But if we look beyond the top-line results, there are some related details that matter quite a bit.

For example, mainstream support for the Republican Party is reaching new depths. In the new poll, just 34% have a favorable opinion of the GOP. This is the lowest level of popularity for either major party since the Pew Research Center began asking the question two decades ago. The approval rating for congressional Republican leaders is down to just 22% — also the lowest ever recorded for either party. (The Democratic Party isn’t winning any popularity contests, but with a 43% favorable rating, Dems have a large edge over Republicans.)

And what about President Obama? The results here are pretty important, and should be of great interest to the White House.

The president’s overall approval rating has ticked down to 43%, but it’s the related details (pdf) that are arguably more interesting. Obama is perceived as a warm, trustworthy president, who’s well informed, communicates well, and cares about regular people. His support has sharply dropped, however, in the “strong leader” and “able to get things done” categories, and the only subject area in which Obama has a majority support is combating terrorism.

Looking ahead, this gem is arguably the most important result of all:

In general, compromise polls extremely well, but not in this case — a plurality wants Obama to fight Republicans more, and that total is up sharply over the last few months. What’s more, the number of self-identified Republicans who want Obama to stand up more to the GOP has roughly doubled since April.

Think about that: a growing number of Republicans want Obama to stand up more to Republicans.

Jon Chait had a compelling take on this:

The question hanging over Obama’s political strategy has always been the endgame. His obsession with seeming reasonable makes sense if he uses it as an asset to spend down at the end. You do everything to show your willingness to compromise, and when the opposition refuses and refuses, finally you assail them for their fanaticism. It’s harrowing to watch, because we don’t know until the last minute whether we’re witnessing a rope-a-dope strategy, or just a boxer being beaten to a pulp.

This raises the stakes in the upcoming speech on the White House’s economic agenda quite a bit, but it also sends a signal to the president about what the public wants to see: be ready to fight the wildly unpopular Republican Party, rather than trying to satisfy their demands.