Chicago Tribune: Mark Penn on President Obama’s First Year

January 15, 2010

Obama’s first year: Mark Penn’s take
President’s slide in the polls is “cause for concern,” but not irreversible.

Mark J. Penn, who served as the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has some views about where President Barack Obama stands near the end of his first year in office.

Obama’s sliding support in the polls is “a real cause for concern,” the veteran pollster says, but the president’s situation is not irreversible.

Penn is worldwide CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations and public affairs firm. He ran polls for former President Bill Clinton in 1995 through 2000 and also ran weekly White House strategy meetings.

This is what Penn said in a conversation with the Washington Bureau:

Q: How serious is the overall drop off in the president’s job approval rating? Is this a bad sign for Democrats in the upcoming mid-terms? What advice would you give to the president to restore those numbers to January 2009 levels?

Penn: “The president’s numbers are a real cause for concern for himself and the party – but they certainly can be reversed at this point.

“It’s only been a year and people are uneasy but not opinion is not yet set and is quite mushy. Progress on the economy and in Afghanistan are the big things that can make a difference. I don’t think the president can do a lot right now with words – the public expects that the first year is going to be the foundation and by the second year they are looking for results. If he delivers them, these poll numbers will quickly reverse themselves.

“Working for six years with President Clinton certainly taught me the lesson that how a president can change public opinion over time as in 1995 he had about a 32 percent approval rating and almost doubled it by 1996 – president Clinton said he would focus on the economy like a laser, he did, and the public quickly recognized the progress.”

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