The Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare may have been a policy win for President Obama, but it’s now clear that it didn’t yield any political benefit. To be sure, a Newsweek/Daily Beast poll that I conducted immediately following the Supreme Court ruling found that a solid majority of voters (58 percent) saw the decision as a major political win for Obama. And yet, while voters may have thought the ruling was a political win for the president, recent polling indicates clearly and unambiguously that his overall political standing is virtually unchanged in the wake of the decision.
Put simply, there has been no real bounce for Obama vis-à-vis Mitt Romney. If you look at the polls that have been conducted before and after June 28—the day of the Supreme Court ruling—you’ll see that there has been no shift toward the president over the past 10 days. In the Real Clear Politics polling average on June 27, Obama held a 3-point lead over Romney. Now, the RCP average has him leading by 2.6 points.
Meanwhile, consider Obama’s RCP job-approval rating on the eve of the June 28 ruling: a slight net positive of 47.9 percent approve versus 47.7 percent disapprove. Today, it’s a slight net negative: 47.0 percent approve versus 48.6 disapprove. But the bottom line is that it hasn’t changed much at all.
The fact that the heath-care ruling does not seem to have significantly altered the polls suggests that the election is going to be decided on other issues: namely, jobs and the economy. And that isn’t particularly good news for Obama. In my Newsweek/Daily Beast poll, voters said, by a margin of 52 to 37, that Romney would do a better job than Obama of handling the economy. And last week’s disappointing jobs numbers will only make this situation worse for the president.
So what should Obama do? It is clear that the only way the president can turn these numbers around is to demonstrate real leadership on economic issues. I would argue that Obama needs to do something that he has been reluctant to do: take on the issue of entitlement policy in the context of fiscal and budgetary reform and deficit reduction.
Only 32 percent of respondents in a June 2012 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said that Obama’s policies have helped improve economic conditions, while 65 percent said they have either hurt or not impacted economic conditions. Meanwhile, 50 percent of voters surveyed said that the economic-stimulus plan and increases in spending passed during the Obama administration have contributed either a lot or a fair amount to the budget deficit—as compared with only 46 percent who said they had contributed some or very little. (By contrast, just 42 percent said the Bush tax cuts had contributed a lot or a fair amount.)
All of which suggests that many voters are not happy with Obama’s spending and might therefore be receptive to a long-term economic agenda that emphasizes the need to rein in entitlements, balance the budget, and reduce the debt. Following this strategy would also allow Obama to position health-care reform as the centerpiece of an overarching plan to address the issue of costs in a serious and sustained way.