By almost all traditional metrics, the White House should be celebrating his 2015 instead of offering the subdued and measured defense seen from President Obama at his end-of-the-year press conference. After all, the usual numbers are good—unemployment rate down, job creation up, inflation low, GDP up, gas prices declining. Only the stock market, which will end the year slightly down, is in negative territory.
To add to a bullish appraisal for the president’s agenda, the year saw him prevail on some of his top priorities—protecting Obamacare, achieving a nuclear deal with Iran, reaching an international climate agreement, and pushing through his rapprochement with Cuba. The president can also point to the lowest “Misery Index”—adding unemployment with inflation—since Harry Truman was president. The current 5.3 Misery Index would normally guarantee high approval.
But these are not normal times and traditional metrics don’t tell the whole story. Instead, these are times of widespread national fear of terrorism and anxiety over the availability of good jobs. So the president concludes 2015 mired in the polling doldrums, his approval rating stuck just about where it was when he started the year. And, with the nation even more polarized than before as it weathers a nasty fight to elect the next president, there is no path visible to push Obama’s ratings above 50 percent.