A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey (pdf) shows that most voters won't start holding President Obama responsible for the state of the economy until he's at least a year into office. This has been interpreted by some to mean that voters are being patient with Obama because they have taken to heart his warnings that the road ahead will be neither short nor easy.
If there's one thing Americans aren't, it's patient. We are not ready for the long haul. We might say we'll give the president a year before we really start complaining about the continued sorry state of the economy -- but just wait. In six months, support for Obama will reach unheard-of lows because people are sick of being poor.
And those few voters who really do think they can manage to withhold judgment on Obama for one or two or even three years -- they're not being patient with the president. They've just learned not to hope for the best. Remember that a recession feels like a recession for a lot longer than it actually exists. Job losses may continue, or at the very least hiring won't recover, for a long time after the recession technically ends. So, knowing this, it's only reasonable to assume that we will continue to feel miserable for years to come. You can call that patience, or you can call it resignation to fate.
We should also note that those voters who don't hold Obama responsible for the economy may not believe he has a lot of control over either its failure or its success. A president can sign a lot of laws and he can try to soothe Wall Street, but the vast machine of the American economy runs on the decisions not only of presidents but of bank executives and business owners and of course consumers, to name just a few.
What this means for our new president: sure, he should continue to counsel patience and try to temper people's expectations. If a recovery miraculously happens in the near future, he's more than welcome to try to take credit for it. That's what politicians do! But Obama should not be surprised when summer turns to fall and many of his former supporters start calling for his head because the recovery hasn't happened fast enough.
Our culture of instant gratification may prove to be the one thing we're capable of sustaining through a recession. A sudden and rapid change in public opinion feels like the surest bet out there.