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WASHINGTON — President Bill Clinton’s chief pollster when the Democratic Party suffered massive losses in the 1994 midterm election said the landscape facing President Obama now is better suited for a comeback.
In a conference call on Friday, Stan Greenberg pointed to several silver linings for a White House that had just lost 60 seats in — and control of — the House of Representatives. Obama, he predicted, has a clearer path to a political comeback than Clinton did 16 years ago.
“In almost all cases here President Obama is doing somewhat better than President Clinton was and that was at a comparable time,” Greenberg said, “[Obama’s] approval rating is higher, [his] personal favorability rating is a little higher. And the other important piece here was when the Democrats were thrown out in ’94, they had been in power for a long time and so the negative feelings on the Democratic Party were stark and reflected the difference on those numbers in ’94.”
The other difference, Greenberg added, “is the state of the Republican Party. They have, through three elections now, their standing has not changed. Republicans are an unreconstructed party going into this and you still have a large majority in the country who want the president to succeed. So as a starting point to this, I think the president can position [himself] and make changes that are important ones and they need to be important changes, on addressing the economy and on the way politics is done.”
Greenberg’s vision is an optimistic one. And it fails to take into account that Clinton also lost the Senate (which, depending on whose asked, made his comeback harder or easier) and that Clinton’s political DNA seems better suited to being thrust against the ropes. In a bit of mixed-messaging, the co-host on Friday’s call, Bob Borosage of Campaign For America’s Future, made the case that Obama was worse off than Clinton at their respective nadirs.
“I would argue, in a sense that Obama has a hard road to how because Clinton like Reagan was propelled to reelection by an economy that was on the way back,” Borosage said. “And at this point there is no sign that this economy is going to get significantly stronger over the next two years unless something dramatic happens.”
That said, there were some empirical data points to which Greenberg pointed that suggested the foundation for a comeback. According to a survey released on Friday by his firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Democrats had a 37 percent negative rating among the public, compared to a 47 percent rating in 1994. Meanwhile, 56 percent of respondents in a surveyed said that they were hopeful for the Obama presidency, a three- point increase from the percentage of vote Obama gained in the 2008 elections.