Playing the blame game

Dave Weigel noted in passing yesterday that President Obama’s approval rating, while down from the bump it received in May, “still seems insanely high considering how unhappy voters are about the economy.”

I agree. It’s not that Obama’s support is insanely high; it’s clearly not. The point is we would expect it to be much lower given public anger and frustration. In general, folks are widely dissatisfied with just about everything, and yet, the president’s support remains in the high 40s.

There are competing explanations for this, but something in the NBC/WSJ poll (pdf) stood out for me. Respondents were asked a good question:

“How responsible is President Obama and his administration’s policies for the country’s current economic conditions?”

Just 10% said Obama is “solely responsible,” and 24% said he’s “mainly responsible.” Nearly half the country (48%) believes the president is “only somewhat responsible,” while 16% consider him not responsible for economic conditions at all. These results are roughly the same as they were last fall, before the midterms.

In contrast, the same poll asked how responsible George W. Bush is for the economy. Nearly half the country (47%) believe Bush is either mainly or solely responsible, well more than blame Obama. In fact, more people hold Bush responsible now than they did last fall.

The point is, people are frustrated and pessimistic, but they don’t necessarily see President Obama as the culprit. Indeed, the poll asked, “When you think about the current economic conditions, do you feel that this is a situation that Barack Obama has inherited or is this a situation his policies are mostly responsible for?” A large 62% majority said he inherited the mess.

This may not keep up, but it may help explain why Obama’s approval rating hasn’t completely tanked.

The same poll, by the way, also asked about the debt ceiling. A 39% plurality said the limit shouldn’t be raised, 31% said they don’t know enough to answer, and just 28% said it should be raised. Then the poll told respondents that “some” people believe failing to raise the ceiling “could stop the government from meeting its obligations, including payments to those on Social Security and in the military, and cause a shock to the economy.”

Suddenly, support for doing the right thing went from a 28% minority to a 46% plurality.