One interesting side product of these campaign controversies is that they have enabled public awareness of a variety of issues in ways that the Administration’s messaging operation never seemed to master. For instance, the birth control flare-up has forced recognition that, as part of the Affordable Care Act, women have the right to universal access to free birth control coverage, either through the health insurance they get with an employer or on the individual market. That’s important information for the public to have to assess the public policy choices available to them in elections.
Another example concerns the auto rescue. Because the Republican primary has landed in Michigan, and because Mitt Romney has in his bumbling way tried to criticize the Obama Administration for not performing the managed bankruptcy he favored in the exact way that he wanted, the Administration, and particularly the re-election campaign, have been forced to defend their actions. That has manifested itself in television spots and talking points that remind the public that, oh by the way, the Administration rescued the auto industry and it saved a lot of jobs and those companies are thriving now.
And as a result, because information actually got to the public, they have responded by supporting the measure for the first time since it occurred.
According to Pew’s latest survey (conducted February 8-12 and 16-20 with a margin of error of ±3%), 56 percent of the American public now believes the auto bailouts were mostly a good thing for the economy. Just 38 percent disagrees, a huge shift from October, 2009 when 54 percent thought the bailouts were mostly bad for the economy and 37 percent thought they were good.
But while there’s been a big turnaround in support for rescuing the auto industry, the Wall Street bailout remains unpopular, with just 39 percent of Americans saying they believe it was a good thing. Both Mitt Romney and President Obama supported TARP, but the key difference is that while Romney only approved of bank bailouts, President Obama also supported the auto bailout. Romney attempted to explain his position during last night’s debate, but didn’t do himself any favors, ultimately saying that it was more important to save the banking industry than the auto manufacturing industry.
I’ll set aside the merits of saving the banking industry, which doesn’t look good for anyone. But the larger point is that an election campaign finally has brought these successes into the public consciousness. And they have responded accordingly. Nobody said that these couldn’t have been brought up long ago as examples of government doing something right.