One question future historians will puzzle over are the curious zigzags in President Barack Obamas popularity.
As a candidate in 2008, he inspired euphoria among his supporters followed by mild disillusionment over his cautious manner and unwillingness to take the fight to his political opponents. Nonetheless he won re-election in 2012 despite high unemployment and a stubbornly slow economic recovery.
In April, polls showed Obamas popularity rising, but recent polls show his standing in decline.
The pattern is striking not only for its vacillation but its reasons. For years, Republicans fanned opposition to the president by describing him as a big spender and declaring the Affordable Care Act a disaster that would drive up the cost of health care and depress the economy. But the deficit has declined, the rise in health care cost has slowed and the dreaded Obamacare is reducing the number of uninsured Americans.
Beyond those issues, Obama is in step with most Americans on big issues of immigration, curbing gun violence, climate change and getting out or keeping out of military engagements. Yet the tide once more turns against him.
A New York Times/CBS poll released this week found that a majority of Americans are unhappy with Obamas job performance, with 54 percent giving a negative grade and 40 percent positive. This time, the negative push comes from the presidents handling of foreign policy and the offensive by Sunni Muslim militants in Iraq.
The events in Iraq have brought the George W. Bush-era neoconservatives out for a chorus of second guessing over Obamas decision to leave Iraq. But that doesnt quite explain why his numbers have dropped. Most Americans wanted out of Iraq and most dont want any new troop commitment there.
Some think Obamas uneven ratings reflect opposition based on his race. Others think Americans cant warm to Obamas aloofness and his distaste for the rough and tumble of politics. Both probably contribute to his failure to win wider popularity despite the improving beneficial effects of the Affordable Care Act, a stock market at record highs and a winding down of the nations long wars.
The Los Angeles Times report on Obamas latest swoon said the problem for the president may be less about what he does, than how he is seen.
The combination of overall disapproval with support on individual issues implies that a big part of the problem Obama faces involves perceptions of his leadership, rather than his specific policies, David Lauter reported. Other recent surveys showing public doubts about Obamas ability to lead the country reinforce that view.
But the ultimate problem may not be Obamas perception, but the nations mood. Americans are nervous about the economy and dubious about government. While Obama slides, Republicans dont rise. Congress, gridlocked by tea party forces in the House, has a popularity rating in the single digits.
The Wall Street Journals Gerald F. Seib wrote in a Tuesday column that Crazy things are happening in the political world because Americans are shaken by the effects of globalization, alienation from traditional institutions and a reactive pitchfork populism. Thats why a majority of Americans agree with the president but dont approve of his performance. Its also why U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, a national Republican leader, can lose to an unknown in a primary.
It isnt logical but logic isnt the order of the day in the political word, Seib wrote.
It isnt logical, but it has effects. Obama is done running for office. The only vote that matters to him is historys. But his popularity will affect this falls elections. With luck, more Americans will feel better by then and confident enough to vote for hope again.