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Obama the lame duck has lost Americans' confidence to lead in WSJ/NBC News poll

President Barack Obama has lost the confidence to lead and disapproval over his foreign policy is at record highs according to a new WSJ/NBC News poll, June 18, 2014
President Barack Obama has lost the confidence to lead and disapproval over his foreign policy is at record highs according to a new WSJ/NBC News poll, June 18, 2014
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

According to a new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 if President Barack Obama was the leader in a country with a parliamentarian system he would receive a "vote of no-confidence." President Obama received record low marks on his general job performance, handling of foreign policy, and his ability to run the country as he was elected to do. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was done between June 11 to 15, 2014.

The new WSJ/NBC News poll has the most disastrous results the president has seen since the winter regarding job performance and gives the president the lowest marks ever on policy elements including foreign policy. The poll demonstrates that only 41 percent of Americans approve of Obama's job performance; a tie for his lowest showing in this poll. A new CNN Poll of Polls that averaged the "Gallup daily tracking poll (June 14-16); NBC News/Wall Street Journal (June 11-15) and Bloomberg (June 6-9)" concluded that Obama's approval rating is now 42 percent.

The president has had his share of late first term and second term problems with domestic policy; a sluggish economic recovery, the health care law and its disastrous rollout and general inability to get Congress to pass his agenda, mishandling of foreign policy; the Benghazi, Libya terror attacks, Syria's ongoing civil war, and the Ukraine crisis, and a series of scandals; IRS, NSA, and now with the Veteran Affairs (VA) and questionable prisoner swap to secure the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

After a stream of foreign policy failures and questionable actions President Obama is now receiving the lowest marks of his presidency for his handling of foreign affairs, an area where his approval ratings were always high. According to the poll 57 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of foreign policy and only 37 percent approve. GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who participated in conducting the poll, finds that "As these difficult events pile up, the VA, the soldier exchange, what's happening in Iraq, the cumulative impact of these are bending and bowing the presidency in a way that historically has meant a difficult election for the Democrats."

Americans are particularly upset with the recent prisoner exchange with Afghanistan over U.S Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was imprisoned since 2009, and involved "swapping" five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl. Obama made the exchange without informing Congress of his plans. According to the poll 44 percent of Americans disapproved of the exchange with only 30 percent approving of his actions. Adding to this Obama informed Congressional leadership in a White House meeting that he will not need or seek their approval should he take any military action regarding the recent crisis in Iraq.

CNN Polling Director Keating Holland thinks a number of more recent events that happened after the WSJ/ NBC News poll was conducted might alter and maybe slightly boost Obama's foreign policy numbers. Holland explained; "Another wild card is the capture yesterday of Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala, so it will take several days to be able to measure how that event has affected views of Obama. And if Obama takes military action in Iraq, he might get a boost in support due to what pollsters sometimes call a 'rally-round-the-flag effect'. So a week or two from now, Obama's numbers on foreign policy could be up, down, or anywhere in between."

The poll had one key question about Obama's ability to lead; "Thinking about the rest of Barack Obama's term as president, do you think he can lead the country and get the job done or do you no longer feel that he is able to lead the country and get the job done?" The question garnered a response where a majority at 54 percent concluding that the president "cannot lead and get the job done." Only 42 percent have confidence that Obama can lead for the rest of his term in office. To contrast, in June 2013 57 percent of Americans had confidence in Obama's ability to do his job.

The poll which was conducted for WSJ and NBC News was done by "Democratic pollsters" Peter D. Hart and Fred Yang, and "GOP pollster Bill McInturff." Hart expressed the most troubling results for President Obama is that "It all comes back to one word: leadership. He may be winning the issues debate but he is losing the political debate because they don't see him as a leader."

The numbers will make it more difficult if not impossible for Obama to work with a Republican Congress, especially if they regain the Senate in the midterm elections. The Republican House routinely defies the president's urges on legislation that is important to him and the Democrats, knowing the public does not support Obama, will cause the GOP to completely deem him irrelevant as well.

President Obama promised a year of action this year in his State of the Union address, and so far he has signed over 20 executive orders, overriding and bypassing Congress at every opportunity possible, when they refused to pass legislation he championed. A general lack of confidence by the American public will make more difficult for the president to take his "pen and phone" and go it alone without Congressional approval since these poll numbers prove he does not have the public's approval either.

With the American public in general questioning Obama as a leader he is in fact in worse shape poll wise than his predecessor Republican George W. Bush (2001-2009), or even going back to history to fellow Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969), who has reemerged in the news because of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right Act. Both Bush and Johnson had low poll numbers based on the public's dissatisfaction with their handling of specific issues, particularly foreign wars, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam respectively. The public however, disapproves of Obama's general ability to be president and lead the country.

Of the recent two-term presidents only Bush had a lower approval rating at this point in his presidency than Obama with "36 percent in June of 2006," Democrat Bill Clinton (1993-2001) had "60 percent in June of 1998," while Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) had the highest approval rating with "64 percent in June of 1986." President Obama should feel good about one poll number according to a new Gallup poll released on Thursday, June 19, 2014 the American public has the least confidence in Congress in his history, with only 7 percent having "a great deal" and "quite a lot" of confidence in the legislative branch.

The poll numbers should be a warning sign for President Obama that he needs do something different in the last two and half years of his presidency to regain the public's confidence, complete as much as his agenda as possible and not be a lame duck in office, and secure the type of legacy he wants for his presidency and his place in history.


NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, June 18, 2014 (PDF)

Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.

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