Worth Discussing

Supercommittee Failure Highlights Obama’s Leadership Deficit

Luke Frans | November 22, 2011

Following the Supercommitee’s failure to reach an agreement, Washington is captivated with postmortems dissecting what went wrong and assigning blame. Congressional Republicans and Democrats have staked out familiar territory with one side rejecting tax increases and the other sweeping entitlement reforms. Yet President Obama is also vulnerable to criticism of his leadership since he remained on the sidelines during this process. 

After the debt ceiling debate, we asked voters the following question in our September survey:

Has President Obama turned out to be a stronger or weaker leader than you thought he would be?  Would that be much stronger/weaker, or just somewhat stronger/weaker?

Voters overwhelmingly viewed President Obama as a weaker leader than expected:

  • 60 percent of voters said President Obama has turned out to be a weaker leader, compared to 32 percent who said stronger.

  • By greater than two-to-one, Independents believed President Obama has been a weaker leader than they expected (65 to 24 percent).

  • Those who said the President has turned out to be a much weaker leader than they thought he would be outnumbered those who believed he turned out to be a much stronger leader by 33 to 13 percent (36 to 7 percent among Independents).

  • 61 percent of voters undecided on the presidential generic ballot believed the President has turned out to be a weaker leader than expected.

There is little reason to believe the President's leadership deficit has closed since this time. Those who say the country is on the wrong track have increased from 67 percent to 70 percent in our most recent survey, and other public polling shows discontent among three-quarters of the country. The national debt recently topped a record high of $15 trillion, and pessimism continues over the government’s ability to spend its way to economic recovery.

In addition, the unpopularity of Congress will not be enough to inoculate the White House from criticism regarding the Supercomittee’s failure. Voters have historically held Congress in low esteem, and only one-third of voters expected the Supercomittee to reach an agreement. The fact that they failed is a dog-bites-man story to most voters.

On the other hand, President Obama had an opportunity to exceed expectations but decided to remain absent as the Supercommittee deadline approached. A majority of Independents (53 to 37 percent) already believe the President is more interested in campaigning against congressional Republicans to win reelection than reaching across the aisle to get things done, according to our last survey. The President’s Supercomittee strategy reinforces this narrative and reminds voters of how he has failed to live up to their expectations.

Filed under: News, Obama Approval Rating, Spending And Debt, Supercommittee, and Congressional Approval Rating