By Nicholas Sheppard –
After a year and a half of poor poll numbers, a Republican takeover of both houses of Congress, a sluggish economic recovery and numerous problems abroad, President Obama’s fortunes may be changing going into 2015.
His job approval rating has been trending up in general in recent weeks, reaching 48 percent in the Gallup ratings around New Year’s, his highest average since August of 2013. It also marks the first time his approval-disapproval gap has not been negative since September of 2013.
Some of this up-tick is due to higher ratings among Hispanics, who reacted favorably when the President bypassed Congress and took executive action to extend protection from deportation to about 4.3 million more unauthorized immigrants. Some of it may reflect his recent announcement about normalising relations with Cuba. And some may reflect Americans’ increasingly positive views of the economy and the jobs picture.
The year ended with 11 million new jobs created, wages finally showing some signs of being on the rise, growth in manufacturing, and a resurgent auto industry that’s on track for its strongest year since 2005. Consumer confidence is back to where it was before the recession, and the stock market has recently been at record highs. G.D.P growth for the last quarter came in at an unexpectedly high 5 percent.
The President’s leadership on the World Stage was often questioned throughout 2014. His administration was caught on the back foot by the sudden emergence of Islamic State, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and Russian aggression.
Recently, however, the Ebola outbreak, if not contained, at least seems to have become manageable; Islamic State’s progress has been diminished, and it seems Western sanctions against Putin’s Russia, as well as a drastic fall in the price of oil, which generates much of Russia’s economic might, has resulted in economic difficulties for Putin, whose audacious expansionist aims seem also to have stalled.
The Obama administration remains on track in bringing a responsible end to America’s longest war in Afghanistan. Obamacare, the President’s signature initiative, seem to be progressing as it was intended, with millions newly insured, The uninsured rate at a near record low, and the cost of health care rising at its slowest rate in 50 years.
Many concerns remain, however. The job participation rate is still extremely low, meaning there is still a lot of slack in the workforce, and a large percentage of people are still ‘underemployed’ working part-time jobs. These factors account, to a fair degree, for the slow rise in wages, which has held back consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of economic activity.
The President’s health care law faces a threat from the Supreme Court, over a possible anomaly about how the law is delivered in the states. The last challenge to the law, in 2012, was decided by a single swing vote, and it is likely the same Supreme Court justice will decide the fate of the law this time around, potentially dealing a severe blow to its sustainability.
The Republican opposition will officially take control of both Houses of Congress this week, making it difficult for legislation the Obama Administration could find favorable to pass. They will be in charge of powerful committees.
Here too, however, there may be a positive outlook for the President. After so many years of obstruction, the incoming Republicans, now with genuine power, will be keen to not be seen merely as the party of ‘No,’ and will feel compelled to work with the President on some initiatives, most likely trade and tax reform, in order to give vulnerable Republicans something to run on when they’re up for re-election in 2016.
The President also has the power to veto legislation he doesn’t like, overriding attempts to undermine his accomplishments. With the improving economic outlook, and the rising approval numbers it brings, the President will have some extra leverage in his face-offs with the Republicans.
With his last election out of the way, he can also set aside electoral strategic considerations and be more comfortable with his political identity. So 2015 has the potential to be a year of substantial turnaround for the President.
Republished with permission from The Sheppard Post.
© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.