The NBC-Wall Street Journal survey released yesterday is chock-full of numbers indicating that the public overwhelmingly likes President Barack Obama and approves of his efforts to once again set America on the right track. More than two-thirds (68%) have a favorable opinion of the President; nearly half (47%) are "very positive." Two-thirds (67%) also "feel hopeful" about his leadership and nearly as many (60%) approve of his job performance. But, perhaps to appear "unbiased" and find something negative to say, NBC's Chuck Todd, says that Obama is more popular personally than are his policies.
Technically that's true: "only" 54-percent say that the President has the "right goals and policies for the country." But in minimizing public support for the administration's policy goals, NBC and Todd are misinterpreting their own data and missing the movement of the United States to a new political and economic era that occurred with the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. That makeover or realignment substantially changed the way in which the American people perceive the role of government and the outcomes they want and expect from federal economic policy. A clear majority of Americans (58%) now favors a government that actively tries to resolve the problems facing society and the economy and almost as many (53%) want government to ensure that everyone has a basic standard of living and level of income, even if that increases government spending. (Insert link to New Attitudes for a New Era blog here) Clearly, the era announced by Ronald Reagan nearly three decades ago, in which government is the problem and not the solution, has ended.
This shift in underlying political attitudes is reflected in the approval given the recently enacted Economic Recovery Act in the NBC-WSJ survey. Nearly a six-in-ten majority supports the "stimulus" package (57%) while barely a third (34%) oppose it. NBC says this reflects soft attitudes toward a key administration policy. However, support at that level for an act that is so big, substantially different from any economic policy since the 1930s, and almost completely opposed by the opposition party is actually quite remarkable. No president since Lyndon Johnson, or perhaps even Franklin D. Roosevelt, has been able to accomplish something so comprehensive with so little watering down in so little time. The first Obama budget, which even the Republican congressional leadership concedes it will not likely stop or even change significantly, will lead to even greater change in the direction of governmental policy.
But, perhaps the most remarkable finding in the NBC survey is the large increase in the number of Americans believing that the country is now moving in a positive direction. Forty-one percent of the public now says the nation is on the right track. That's up from 26 percent in the last month of the Bush administration. Given that Americans still believe the worst is yet to come on the economy (76% say the economy has not yet bottomed out), the increased optimism of the public can only be a result of its regard for Barack Obama and his approach that clearly reflects the movement of the United States to a new civic era of governmental activism.
Mike Hais is a Fellow at NDN and the New Policy Institute and, with Morley Winograd, is the co-author of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press, 2008), named one of the 10 favorite books by the New York Times in 2008.