One botched crisis can make a huge difference in the public's view of a president. This week, President Obama is juggling two acute crises, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a terrorism plot in Times Square. Whether the country approves of his actions could color the rest of his term.
The Bush presidency, for example, never fully recovered after Hurricane Katrina. Jimmy Carter's poll numbers -- and his presidency -- hit a turning point during the Iran hostage crisis. Carter's approval ratings flopped permanently, but not immediately. Andrew Kohut from the Pew Research Center says the response to Carter's reaction was a very positive one at first.
"His approval ratings soared," Kohut says, "from a 30 percent level to a 55, 60 percent level. It was one of the biggest jumps we'd ever seen."
Kohut says the moral to the story is this: "The public is always willing to give the president credit for trying, especially in the initial time period when an acute problem occurs."
But the instinct to support the president doesn't last forever. Patience runs thin, and results matter. How do Americans make a collective decision about whether a president has succeeded or failed in a crisis?
Success Can't Be Spun
Among almost a dozen experts, from Republicans to Democrats, pollsters and spin doctors, each person gave the same answer.
"No amount of spin can overcome poor performance," Republican consultant Mark Corallo says.
"Bad behavior, I don't think, can actually be saved by good messaging," Democratic crisis consultant Lorena Chambers agrees.
Crisis consultant Lanny Davis, who worked in the Clinton White House, called it a "dog bites man" story that people in politics too often ignore. If you want to appear successful, he says, then you need to actually succeed.
"The misconception is that the message is the solution," he says. "And it's not only a misconception; it's a trap that crisis managers as well as people in the White House can easily fall into. You lose sight over what the American people are looking for: solutions."
Obama's Response Goes Beyond Crisis
Despite the professional consensus that results are more important than images, people inside the Obama administration are not taking any chances with their messaging"
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