Is Obama's New Populism Working?

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Obama's new populism isn't alienating moderates, says Ruy Teixeira in The New Republic.

Recent polling data confirm that Obama's strategy is paying off with both base and swing voters. In the most recent Washington Post/ABC poll, Democrats say they trust Obama over the Republicans in Congress to create jobs by 79-8, up from 69-11 in September. And Independents, too, now favor Obama on jobs, by 44-31, a big shift from 37-42 in September. And not only do Democrats support Obama's jobs plan and believe it will improve the jobs situation, but so too do independents, by margins of 47-38 and 52-44, respectively. Moderates, meanwhile, are even more enthusiastic--support figures among this group are 5-9 points higher than among Independents on all these questions.

Interesting numbers, but I'd be curious to know how Teixeira reconciles them with Obama's job-approval rating, which has worsened since he turned more aggressively partisan.

Here is one way to reconcile them. To be trusted more than Republicans in Congress is hardly a startling achievement. Also, Obama's jobs plan is a good one, certainly better than nothing, so it is unsurprising that many moderates back it. But they must also be wondering how much Obama cares about getting it passed. He knew his proposal for financing it was certain to attract no Republican support; even some Senate Democrats are unhappy. The pivot has opened Obama to the charge that he is no longer even trying to govern. Let the plan get nowhere: no problem, so long as the GOP gets the blame. This hurts the president. On this theory he stands revealed as scheming and insincere--which attacks the core of his appeal in 2008.

Obama was not supposed to be just another politician. If the country decides that's what he is after all, he is in trouble. Moderates can support the stimulus part of the jobs plan and deplore the performance of the Republican House yet still feel that the new Obama is not what they voted for and that somebody else might do better. Obama isn't running for re-election against Republicans in Congress. How well he does will depend on the alternative. Since the pivot, polls have him losing against Romney.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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