- - Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The political odds for the 2014 midterm elections have turned upside down. President Obama’s polls are plummeting, and the Republicans’ approval numbers are rising again.

Suddenly, all those stories we’ve been reading over the course of 2013 about the demise of the GOP are looking shaky. Now Mr. Obama and the Democrats are the ones in political trouble as they approach next year’s elections.

The latest public opinion polls show the president and his party getting much higher disapproval scores on issues that will be at the focus of next year’s House and Senate elections: Obamacare, the economy and trust.

Despite the national news media’s attempts to persuade Americans that the economy is getting stronger, The Washington Post’s poll Tuesday found that the public’s perceptions are gloomy. Almost eight in 10 say the economy “remains in recession.”

Indeed, more Americans now say they trust Republicans to do a better job of running the economy than Mr. Obama has done.

He’s lost substantial political support on his promise to protect and strengthen the middle class. A big 26-point advantage on this pledge a year ago has shrunk to just six points.

The blaring headline over the Post’s front-page poll story no doubt stunned the White House: “Obama’s approval ratings plummet.” The secondary headline previewed what his declining numbers mean for his party: “Poll results worrisome for Democrats looking to midterm elections.”

Here’s how the newspaper, which endorsed Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012, explained what its new survey found:

“President Obama is ending his fifth year in office matching the worst public approval ratings of his presidency, with record numbers of Americans saying they disapprove of his job performance and his once-hefty advantage over Republicans in Congress eroded in many areas.”

When asked “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling … his job as president,” a higher 55 percent of Americans disapproved, compared with a 43 percent approval. A year ago, these numbers were nearly reversed.

Fifty-five percent also now disapprove of the way he’s dealt with the economy, compared with 42 percent who still, inexplicably, approve of his policies.

Especially significant, Americans now say they trust the Republicans more than Mr. Obama — 45 percent to 41 percent — to do a better job on improving the economy.

In December 2012, 54 percent trusted the president more, while only 32 percent trusted the GOP.

Meantime, Mr. Obama’s health care law is more unpopular than ever. Sixty-four percent say it is not “working as it should.” Also, 55 percent say its implementation problems are not isolated incidents, but a “sign of broader problems” to come.

Republicans are demanding at least a one-year delay in Obamacare’s implementation, a move the White House and Democrats dismiss out of hand. However, 60 percent of Americans agree that its problems “are serious enough that the government should delay the requirement that all individuals have health insurance.”

Nearly half of all poll respondents say Obamacare will worsen the nation’s health care, and six out of 10 say it will result in higher medical care costs.

While most presidents run into troubles at some point while in office, Mr. Obama’s numbers are far more serious when compared to his predecessors. “Obama ends his fifth year in office with lower approval ratings than almost all other recent two-term presidents,” The Post said.

Historically, second-term presidencies are notoriously difficult. If you don’t achieve anything in the first two years, forget about the last two, because the political focus shifts to the presidential election cycle.

In 1984, President Reagan ran for his second term on comprehensive tax reform that would cleanse the tax code of inefficient and needless loopholes and plow the savings into lowering the rates. He enacted a sweeping, bipartisan law, with significant Democratic support, in 1986.

Mr. Obama ran on no specific agenda, and over the course of the past year, he and the Democrats have been struck by one scandal after another — political abuses in the Internal Revenue Service, a cover-up of the deadly terrorist attacks in Benghazi, and the botched Obamacare rollout.

“When historians write the story of Barack Obama’s presidency, 2013 will be his lost year,” the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote Sunday, adding that the “damage done to Obama’s brand will linger well beyond this calendar year.”

This gives the Republicans a big boost heading into the midterm elections when polls show Americans are nearly evenly divided over how they’ll vote in House races.

In October, Democrats held an eight-point advantage in the congressional polls. Now the tide has turned, and Democrats are clinging to a tenuous two-point lead (47 percent to 45 percent).

It’s worth noting that just before the 2010 elections when the GOP took control of the House, picking up 63 seats, polls also showed the generic vote narrowly favoring Democrats.

The public’s growing unease, and even fear, of Mr. Obama’s health care law and its impact on their own lives, and their unhappiness with a long-sluggish economy will feed into next year’s elections, especially the House races, where the GOP could strengthen its muscular majority, and to some degree in the Senate races, too.

That’s why “Obama and his legacy are on the ballot in 2014 — even if his name is not,” Mr. Cillizza wrote last month.

In the end, Mr. Obama’s empty second term may remind people of a famous political maxim, attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.