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“While I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this — and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way.” –President Obama addressing a Naval Air Station in Jacksonville Florida on 10/26/2009

The Washington Post today wrote a story entitled, “U.S. Official Resigns Over Afghan War”, that discusses former Marine  Captain Mathew Hoh resigning from the Foreign Service.  According to the story:

“ . . . in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.”

In many ways Hoh’s resignation is emblematic of the Obama Administration struggle with Afghanistan.  Early on, they had identified it as the good war and the war worth fighting, but have shown little, at least publicly, willingness to implement the strategy its military leaders believe will be required for success. 

In his resignation letter, Hoh wrote:

“I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."

This statement, of course, is a broader reflection of the public view of Afghanistan.  How? Why? And to what end? Obviously, President Obama inherited this war, so to some extent we can’t blame him in totality, but the fact remains the uncertainty around this war is a drag on his approval, which will impede his ability to implement broader policy in the coming months and years of his term.

Currently the Rasmussen Daily Tracking poll has a -11 rating for President Obama’s approval.  This rating is calculated by subtracting the difference between strongly approve and strongly disapprove, which, as of today, is currently at 41% Strongly Disapprove and 30% Strongly Approve.  While President Obama did received a bounce in polls after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, that bounce, which is typical for polls, was short lived based on its one-time nature.  That is, it didn’t change the ingrained view of the polling public’s view of the President. Except for one day (in which the poll was at -9), President Obama has double digit negative ratings in the Rasmussen Poll since October 16th, a point we’ve outlined in the chart below.

In addition to the war in Afghanistan, which is becoming a defining point for his administration, President Obama is also currently struggling with the healthcare bill and the economy in terms of his popularity.  In effect, he now has a triumvirate of political footballs that he has to juggle, which, as outlined above, is weighing on his popularity in terms of approval rating.

The U.S. Today published another interesting poll today which asked respondents whether they would be better or worse off today or in three/four years from now, 37% believing they will be worse off. Compared to the same poll shortly after President Obama’s election in November 2008, 25% said the would be worse off. Obviously, this poll has coincided with the dramatic spike in unemployment, so it may not be totally a reflection of the respondents view of the President and his policies, but is likely a reflection of how the broad electorate feels about their personal economic future.

In the quote at the start of this note, the President mentioned that he will not rush into a decision of sending more troops to Afghanistan.  To some extent that is a metaphor for many of his policies: even if he is seeing a negative score in the short term, he is not going to rush to change strategy on important issues.  Ultimately, this type of conviction may pay off for the President, even if his approval rating suffers in the short term, which leads to the question that we titled this note with, which is, ‘Does Approval Matter?”

The simple answer is, the President’s approval rating means very little for him in the short term.  He will not be facing another election for over three years.  That said, it does mean a lot for his party.  Another interesting poll we’ve been watching is the generic congressional poll, which compares broad support for Republicans versus Democrats in congressional races.

From President Obama’s election last fall up until late June of this summer, Democrats held a consistent lead over Republicans in this Rasmussen Poll.  Since June, which coincided with the decline in the President’s sky high approval ratings, the Republicans have held a steady lead, which in the past two weeks has been 5 and 4 points respectively.  This poll obviously begs the question: President Obama isn’t in a rush, but should he be?

Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director

No Rush? - a1