Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Obama struggles against abysmal approval ratings

While globally people are warming to the US again, Americans are giving Obama the cold shoulder

Two polls, released yesterday, have revealed contradictory results on the popularity of US President Barack Obama — depending on whether you are inside, or outside, the US.

One, conducted on behalf of the BBC World Service, suggests that people around the world are warming again to the US, under its new leader.

The other, by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, shows Americans more down on their own government than at almost any time in the last half century.

The improved global opinion of the US, as evidenced by the BBC's poll carried out in 28 countries, was to be expected after the departure of the much-disliked George W Bush.

For the first time since the poll's inception in 2005, America is seen as a positive force in the world. It is proof, were any needed, that the “Obama effect” is real.

At home, the story is different. True, the President's personal |approval ratings, now around 50%, have held up well (though they are a far cry from the 75% or more when he took office 15 months ago). But the number of Americans who trust Washington has dropped to an abysmal 22%; three out of every four say they are “frustrated” or “angry” with the federal government.

At first sight, this surge in hostility makes little sense.

If ever the climate was propitious for government here, it was in the wake of the financial debacle of 2008. Without state intervention, it is widely agreed, the Great Recession would probably have become another Great Depression. And Mr Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have duly obliged — with a $787bn stimulus package, state support for banks, the biggest healthcare reform since the 1960s and, it seems likely, with a regulatory clamp-down on Wall Street. But much good it has done them.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, attributes much of the sour mood to a weak economy and high unemployment, the partisan atmosphere in Washington and what he described on NPR public radio yesterday as an “epic discontent” among the people for their elected representatives in Congress and the White House.

Nowhere is the discontent more visible than in the emergence of the Tea Party movement, a prime mover behind last summer's “town hall” rallies against healthcare reform. The Tea Parties are proof that suspicion of government is hard-wired into the American collective psyche.

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