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The Obama Coalition Crumbles, And Obama Blames The Voters (Again)

If you’re looking for one reason why Democrats are worried about Election Day 2010, you need look no further than polls like this:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s winning coalition from 2008 has crumbled and his core backers are dispirited. It’s now Republicans who stand to benefit from an electorate that’s again craving change.

Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall. Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.

Yet in a reflection of broad dissatisfaction with politics, just as many people who backed Republican presidential nominee John McCain are either supporting Democrats now or still considering how to vote.

Still, McCain voters — to borrow Obama’s campaign rallying cry — are far more “fired up, ready to go.” Two-thirds say they are certain to vote next month.

It’s a wide enthusiasm gap that’s buoying Republicans, who are poised for big electoral gains, and worrying Democrats, who are seeking to hang onto majorities in Congress as well among governors. Obama’s party hopes its superior get-out-the-vote operation, updated from his groundbreaking campaign, can overcome Republicans’ energized supporters to mitigate expected losses across the board.

While no president can be expected to fully rally his supporters when he’s not on the ballot, the survey illustrates the wide scope of Obama voters’ disappointment with the president and his policies almost halfway through his first term — and two years before he’s likely to seek their backing again.

The reasons for this are fairly clear if you dig deeper into the poll. Substantial majorities of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 are now disappointed that he seemingly hasn’t followed through on his promises to change Washington, and even larger majorities of those voters now believe that it simply isn’t possible to change politics at all.

The President is responding to this disenchantment in a rather puzzling way, though, he’s blaming the voters:

At a Saturday-evening fundraiser held in the home of a wealthy Massachusetts hospital executive, President Obama suggested Democrats are having difficulties in midterm campaigning because Americans simply aren’t thinking clearly. Seeking to explain his party’s troubles, the president focused not on controversial legislation like national health care and the stimulusbut on evolutionary psychology. “Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument do not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared,” Obama told the assembled Democrats, who paid $15,200 a person to attend. “And the country is scared.”

To “break through the fear and the frustration that people are feeling right now,” Obama told the crowd, will require high-end donors not just to “write checks” but also to “lift up people’s spirits and make sure that they’re not reacting just to fear.”

See, the voters aren’t mad because the economy is crappy and the President and Congress have done nothing about it, they’re not mad because the Democrats over-reached in enacting an agenda that the public clearly didn’t support, they’re made because they’re “afraid.”  This isn’t the first time that Barack Obama has delved in to the arena of arm-chair psychology to try to explain why voters weren’t supporting him, of course, he said much the same thing back during the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary:

Mayhill Fowler has more from Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser Sunday, and they include an attempt to explain the resentment in small-town Pennsylvania that won’t be appreciated by some of the people whose votes Obama’s seeking:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them…And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It was a comment that derailed what had been a smooth-running campaign up until that point, and it most likely cost Obama the primary and what would’ve been a knockout blow against Hillary Clinton.

As Bruce McQuain notes, both incidents reveal something of what Obama really thinks about the voters:

Obviously the resistance he and the Democrats are encountering comes from our ignorance not their enlightened rule.  Now we’re scared and reactionary – unable to process how wonderful the things Democrats have done really are.  We can’t clearly comprehend that trillion dollar deficit budgets for the next 10 years are a “good thing”.  We can’t fathom that increased government intrusion into our lives at every level is for our benefit.  Obviously we’re just too dumb to understand the “science” that drives the cap-and-tax debate.  And we’re so on edge we clearly can’t comprehend the “arguments” which justify government take-overs of car companies and the health care system.

(…)

It is never the ideas, concepts or policies that are the problem – it is, it seems, always the dumbass citizens who don’t “get” what these wonderful politicians are trying to do for them.

It’s a pretty arrogant attitude when you get right down it, and as my co-blogger Dodd points out, it’s one of the things that is motivating the Tea Party movement:

An expansive view of the state as a means of accomplishing good almost invariably carries with an attitude that one knows better than other people what “good” is and the concomitant belief that it’s acceptable to use the power of government to force such ideas on people “for their own good.” Regular Joes and Janes who prefer to be left alone can see the effects of this attitude in ever-expanding government. TARP, the “stimulus,” repeated bailouts, health care reform — each coming rapidly on the heels of the last — (and the promise of more such policy to come) were like a shock to the system, jarring them out of their inertia. And they don’t much appreciate the inherent condescension of their “betters” who rammed all of this through regardless of popular opinion either. So when they see a bunch of people a lot more like them than the ones trying to “fundamentally transform” their country being pilloried with vulgar sexual slurs as racists and extremists, it’s only natural that they start feeling more affinity for the Tea Party.

Obama and the Democrats have reacted to this movement by dismissing it as astroturf, or by smearing it as racist, or by saying that the voters just don’t know what’s good for them. Not surprisingly, that message isn’t going over well and, if the polls and the forecasts hold up, it seems fairly certain that Republicans will take control of one, if not both, Houses of Congress in just over two weeks. What they do with that power once they have it remains to be seen, but the President would do well to recognize that dismissing and belittling his opposition isn’t exactly the best strategy, and that the reason his 2008 coalition has crumbled has much more to do with him than with the “fears” of voters.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    See, the voters aren’t mad because the economy is crappy and the President and Congress have done nothing about it, they’re not mad because the Democrats over-reached in enacting an agenda that the public clearly didn’t support, they’re made because they’re “afraid.”

    I’d rephrase that. Voters are mad because the economy is crappy and the President and Congress can’t be honest about it. Truth is unpalatable.

    This actually favors the Republicans, because lacking anything concrete, different is better.

    It’s sad though, because neither party is profiting by naming real solutions.

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  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    Dodd and Mataconis the go to guys for objective political analysis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. Ben says:

    As a disaffected Obama voter, I agree that this tactic is dumb, and is counter-productive. My primary area of disappointment in the Obama admin is in their continuing with the Bush doctrine of eroding civil liberties in the name of security and the failure to even begin considering ratcheting down the war on drugs.

    My only quibble with what you wrote, Doug, was the “mad because the Democrats over-reached in enacting an agenda that the public clearly didn’t support” line. That may be one of the reasons that republicans and tea partiers are pissed at the obama admin, but I would wager to say that that is not the view of disaffected democrats and progressives. Obama based a good portion of his campaign on the idea of major health-care reform (and even hinted at socialization). If you voted for Obama, you voted for that as a large part of his platform. I find it hard to consider it over-reaching when a candidate pushed for the passing of a (dumbed-down, mind you) major portion of his campaign platform.

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  4. Brummagem Joe says:

    His coalition hasn’t crumbled at all which is why his appros are still at or close to 50%. If there was presidential election in three weeks against any Republican you care to name he’d sail home. Whether they all turn out for him in the November mid terms when turnout is traditionally lower is another matter although it should be noted that a lot of these polls predicting Republican wipeouts are assuming turnouts around 40% which seems very low to me. There’s some unhappiness with him on the far left because paradise has been postponed (go to daily kos if want the flavor) but that doesn’t mean all these people are going to rush off and vote for Jim De Mint or his clones. Doug claims he’s making no predictions about Republican takeovers of both houses but then essentially implies they will. This is to preserve your deniability I guess Doug.

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  5. john personna says:

    I’m generally Obama-friendly, but erosion of civil liberties and coziness to wall street worry me as well.

    (Obama’s Attorneys: President Can Legally Kill Any American)

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  6. anjin-san says:

    > I’m generally Obama-friendly, but erosion of civil liberties and coziness to wall street worry me as well.

    Agreed.

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  7. ponce says:

    “The reasons for this are fairly clear if you dig deeper into the poll. Substantial majorities of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 are now disappointed that he seemingly hasn’t followed through on his promises to change Washington,”

    This seems like a very dubious statement.

    Obama won with 53% of the vote in 2008 and his approval rating has been in the 45-50% range for the past year.

    In other words, Obama has lost, at most, the approval of 15% of the Americans who voted for him.

    Please link to any poll that back up your claim that “substantial majorities of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 are now disappointed…”

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  8. reid says:

    As I was first reading your post, I was reminded of the “clinging” story from the campaign, as you later got to. In both cases, I think he’s generally correct. If the economy was good and unemployment was low, you wouldn’t have a tea party. It probably is poor strategy to come out and say it, though. In both cases, I think Obama was in what felt like a private setting and spoke more freely than he would’ve otherwise. God knows bloggers love to pick at his words….

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  9. Nightrider says:

    So if the election plays out more or less as expected, right wingers will say it is proof that the country thinks Obama went too far left, and left wingers will say that the reason it happened was because left wing voters stayed home. And so 2011 unfolds just like every other year in recent memory, with the political process paralyzed by the resulting tug of war away from the middle where useful compromises might actually occur.

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  10. jfoobar says:

    It may be an arrogant attitude, but it is also one that is common to almost all experienced politicians. One could also make a pretty solid argument that it is the the correct attitude.

    The problem doesn’t lie with his having this attitude, but with his lack of wisdom in voicing it with a microphone parked in front of his face.

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  11. Drew says:

    “Dodd and Mataconis the go to guys for objective political analysis.”

    Brumbo-jumbo Joe, the place to go for objective political analysis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. [...] it a misstep of Obama, Pelosi, et al to say that they would change Congress and put forth the best, most ethical [...]

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  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    Drew says:
    Monday, October 18, 2010 at 16:28

    You never did answer my questions on tax bite. Is this it?

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  14. [...] The Obama Coalition Crumbles, And Obama Blames The Voters (Again) (outsidethebeltway.com) [...]

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