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First thoughts: 332 Days Later

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** 332 Days Later: For much of his first year in office, President Obama has largely resembled the protagonist in a futuristic zombie movie -- think "I am Legend" or "28 Days Later" or "28 Months Later" -- in which he's the only character that doesn't seem to have the virus that's infected everyone else. In those movies, the protagonist inevitably gets the virus, too. And that's precisely what has happened to Obama, according to our new NBC/WSJ poll: He has caught the anti-Washington, angry-at-everything virus, and it has dramatically changed the plot of our political movie. In the poll, Obama's approval has dropped below 50% (to 47%); his party faces its first net-negative fav/unfav since Sept. 2007; and one-third think he has the right goals and priorities to fix the economy. In fact, when the Afghanistan results are Obama's best numbers (55% support the troop surge, up eight points since October), you know this is a bad poll for the White House.

*** When everyone else looks worse: But just like in one of those zombie flicks, the environment -- and everyone else, for that matter -- looks even worse than the protagonist. In the poll, 55% think the country is on the wrong track; 61% believe the country is in a state of decline; and a whopping 81% believe the past year in Congress has been marked by division and a lack of willingness to compromise. (Compare that with the 52% who thought, immediately after Obama's presidential victory, that unity would prevail in 2009.) What's more, Sarah Palin's fav/unfav is 32%-40%, up a tick since her book tour. And the Republican Party's fav/unfav is 28%-43%. Indeed, the anti-Washington sentiment is so strong that the conservative, libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement has a net-positive fav/unfav, 41%-23%. Populism is alive and well, folks. And it's up for grabs. Washington-establishment types watch out: 2010 could be the year of the outsider and turn into the THIRD-STRAIGHT change election cycle, an unprecedented level of political volatility in this country.

*** The new enthusiasm gap: Looking ahead to next year's midterms, Democrats enjoy only a two-point advantage on the generic ballot, 43%-41%, which is their smallest edge on this question since 2004. In addition, unlike was the case during the 2008 election season, Democrats are now the ones facing an enthusiasm gap. According to the poll, 56% of Republicans said they were "very interested" in next year's midterms, compared with 46% of Democrats who said that (rounding explains why it is EXACTLY 100%, btw). Moreover, when you look at the generic-ballot score among high-interest voters, Republicans have an eight-point advantage, 47%-39%. "This survey underscores what I consider a dramatic and unmistakable change in the political landscape," said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D). "For Democrats, the red flags are flying at full mast." Indeed, if Republicans end up taking back control of Congress -- and that still remains a BIG IF -- this survey would have marked the turning point and be the first poll to truly show the Democrats could actually drive off the cliff.

*** Obama and his left flank: Speaking of the enthusiasm gap, our poll suggests the health-care fight and the Afghanistan escalation have taken a toll on Obama with his base. Back in our February poll, 88% of Democrats approved of his job. Now that number is 79%. While it's still considerable support, that slight drop is the difference between being above -- or at -- 50%, and being below it.

*** A final thought on the poll: If you don't believe the Tea Party fav/unfav, check out these numbers: 36% of respondents said they would be MORE likely to vote for a congressional candidate supporting Obama's issue positions more than 90% of the time, versus 45% who said they'd be LESS likely to vote for the candidate. By comparison, 32% said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who has supported GOP leaders over 90% of the time, versus 42% who said they'd be less likely to vote for that person. And only 20% said that they'd more likely to vote for a candidate backing Nancy Pelosi 90% of the time, versus 52% who said they'd be less likely to vote for him. What does this tell us (other than we're going to see Republicans using Pelosi in their ads and mail)? That no one is happy with either party right now… Anyone else surprised we haven't seen more candidates attempt to run on a third-party of indie line?

*** Nelson isn't the only guy left to watch: Turning to health care, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-Socialist) said in an interview with FOX Business News that he's not ready to vote for the Senate bill. But do note the wiggle room here: "As of this point, I'm not voting for the bill... I'm going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I've indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point. And here is the reason. When the public option was withdrawn, because of Lieberman's action, what I worry about is how do you control escalating health care costs?" (Hat tip: Taegan Goddard.) Also, SEIU President Andy Stern sent a message to his members saying that while the legislation does positive things, Obama must fight for more reform. "President Obama must remember his own words from the campaign. His call of 'Yes We Can' was not just to us, not just to the millions of people who voted for him, but to himself." What say you, AFL-CIO? The White House has to hope all of this is posturing right now. If not, this thing could be in BIG trouble...

*** White House vs. Howard Dean: The White House is clearly worried about the liberal chattering class possibly killing health care. White House adviser David Axelrod called into "Morning Joe" to pick apart Howard Dean's Washington Post op-ed on health care. He got quite animated about it -- just as Dean has -- which brings us to the entire relationship between the White House and Howard Dean. Why is it such a mess? How has it deteriorated like this? Does it go back to the Dean-Rahm feud from '06 and '08? Is it distrust of Dean by the Obama campaign in '08? Many progressive opinion elites are wondering this morning why the White House has an easier time attacking Howard Dean than Joe Lieberman.  Speaking of Lieberman, ex-Dem Sen. Bob Kerrey pens an op-ed defending his former colleague.

*** Today's sked: After holding meetings at the White House, Obama takes off for the climate-change conference in Copenhagen at around 7:00 pm ET… Vice President Biden will be in Georgia (the state, not the country), where he'll make a stimulus announcement with GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue (!!!)… And beginning at 9:30 am ET, the Senate Banking Committee meets to vote on "Man of the Year" Ben Bernanke's confirmation to serve another term as Fed chairman. 

Countdown to MA Special Election: 33 days
Countdown to IL primary: 47 days
Countdown to TX primary: 75 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 320 days

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