A year on from a historic election, the spirit of popular goodwill that yielded America’s first black president has retreated to tepid support for Barack Obama as he presses his change agenda.
Since the November 4 poll, Obama’s visage has been everywhere, conspicuously on the streets of the nation’s capital where millions of foreign and domestic tourists have visited over the past year, many of them snatching up poignant souvenirs.
A quick look around downtown Washington confirms that the Obama trinkets are still for sale, but more than one strategically placed street hawker have found little point in displaying the T-shirts, posters, and “Yes We Can” buttons bearing the new president’s image.
“They stay in the truck,” grumbled a vendor who identified himself as “Dick,” as he pointed to a rusty vehicle behind him. “They don’t sell anymore.”
Indeed, Obama’s honeymoon with the American people lasted less than six months.
In the aftermath of his inauguration in January, Obama’s approval rating soared to 70 percent. Early on, he tested Americans’ faith by diving headlong into controversial programs to rescue the economy, including bailing out sinking US auto manufacturers and unleashing a 787-billion-dollar stimulus plan.
In late April, at the end of the first 100 days in office, Obama still enjoyed more positive reviews than his predecessors in the previous 20 years.
But the fall was soon to come as questions started simmering about the president’s ability to pull the US economy out of a nosedive.
Comparable popularity lower than Bush
In July, his popularity dipped even below that of predecessor George W. Bush in the same period of his presidency.
Since mid-October, it has hovered just above 50 percent, a “significant drop” from his earlier numbers, according to Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll.
“In general, this puts Obama’s current ratings slightly below average for all US presidents since World War II,” Newport told AFP, adding that the country’s ongoing economic travails are contributing to the curb in enthusiasm.
On Sunday, even as data released by the Commerce Department last week showed the United States had emerged from the worst recession in decades, a monthly approval index by Rasmussen Reports showed 29 percent of those polled strongly approve of Obama’s performance, compared to 39 percent who strongly disapprove.
That left him with an approval index of -10, two points worse than in September, Rasmussen reported.
“Overall, Americans are not highly satisfied with the way things are going in the US,” said Newport.
And as a consequence, the popularity of Obama gear at the souvenir shops that abound in Washington appears to be taking a hit.
“Sellings have really slowed down since Obama took office,” said vendor Vin Ngo.
This is not for want of supply: from a lifesize cardboard cutout to gold jewelry to a bottle of special vintage champagne bearing the president’s name, the list of Obama tchotchkes and high-end souvenirs is long.
High or low as it may be at home, Barack Obama’s popularity abroad is irrefutable, argues Professor Clyde Wilcox of Georgetown University in Washington.
He is “the first African-American president, a young man who has won many honors and done great things. He is a cultural phenomenon in the US and around the world,” Wilcox said.
As such, the conditions remain ripe for more sales, according to Lian Nelson, another street vendor in Washington, who hangs Obama T-shirts alongside those featuring another prominent African-American hero: Michael Jackson.
Who is outselling whom? According to Nelson, the “King of Pop” is well ahead.