Obama Support Drops with Democrats, Independents

President Obama’s approval ratings are continuing to fall, especially among young Democrats and working class whites.

Ron Brownstein highlights a new Pew poll showing the trends since the election:

Pew found Obama’s numbers are weakest among groups that were skeptical of him last year, but appeared to be kicking the tires on him during the honeymoon stage of his presidency. Now those groups–particularly white men without a college education–are retreating rapidly amid the ideologically polarizing debates over health care, the stimulus and his administration’s overall trajectory.

But Pew’s new survey also records perceptible, if still generally modest, erosion among groups that were central to Obama’s coalition last year–including young people, college-educated white women and even partisan Democrats. That is more worrisome for Obama, especially amid signs that the bruising combat over his health care plan is inflaming the conservative base. If conservatives are energized at the same time that Obama’s core supporters are wavering, Democrats could face a withering differential in turnout during next year’s election, many party strategists fear.


This erosion among non-college whites could threaten Democrats in 2010, particularly across the Rustbelt states of the Midwest, if turnout among these voters remains strong. But over the long run, those voters are not central to Obama’s coalition, in part because they have been reliably Republican in presidential elections since the 1980s, and partly because they are steadily declining as a share of the electorate.

More important to Obama are college-educated white voters, the key to his dramatic and decisive gains last year in suburban counties from Fairfax, Virginia to Arapahoe, Colorado. On this front, the picture is somewhat brighter for him: he maintains majority support among college-educated white women (who gave him 52 percent of their vote last year, matching the Democratic high in recent decades) and his approval rating among college-educated white men still exceeds his (admittedly lackluster) vote with them last year. But with both groups, he is moving in the wrong direction: Obama’s approval rating among the upscale men dropped two points in the Pew survey from July to August, and his standing with the college-plus white women dropped a more ominous five percentage points.

Greg Sargent notes similar trends in the Washington Post/ABC News poll and says this is what Obama gets for reaching out to conservatives:

Much talk today has focused on Obama’s difficulties with independents. But the drop among Dems and liberals is also a key driving factor in the President’s skid, according to WaPo polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta, who graciously provided the additional data.

This suggests Obama’s conciliatory approach to the GOP, and his lack of clarity around the public option — both of which are presumably alienating Dems and liberals — could be key factors driving his dip.

But none of this should be surprising. Obama came to office with outsized expectations, owing to a combination of his enormous charisma, the sustained national malaise during most of Bush’s second term, and an adoring media. It would have been impossible for him to live up to the hype. Especially when he was inheriting two wars, a global financial crisis, and a health care system headed for fiscal meltdown.

Nor is the demographic breakdown at all surprising. Young Democrats naturally had the most unrealistic expectations of the Change! that was coming to Washington, in that they simply don’t have the experience with the American political system to know any better. And of course working class whites and hipster ObamaCons who voted for Obama because they were so tired of the Republicans were going to be disappointed with a president with an agenda fundamentally at odds with their political preferences.  Not to mention that we’ve been a 50-50 country for a while now; a bare majority approval rating is going to be the ceiling outside from brief periods of euphoria.

Brownstein is right that, if this trend sustains itself, it means a bad midterm cycle for Obama’s party.  But that was likely to be the case, anyway.  Not only is a letdown in the off-year election the historical norm but regression to the mean should be expected after two cycles where Republicans lost big in areas naturally friendly to their platform.

It’s way too early to project this trend to 2012.  Still, I don’t see much cause for Republican celebration or Democratic panic.  Barring miracles — or a truly horrendous GOP nominee — Obama wasn’t going to keep the ObamaCons for another cycle.  And, barring a Lyndon Johnson-style meltdown, the disillusioned young Democrats are going to vote for Obama again, although perhaps not as enthusiastically or in quite such high numbers.  Which means, barring something unusual happening, we’re likely to return to our recent pattern of close elections.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, 2012 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    With approvals so high to begin with, Obama had nowhere to go but down.

    I do think the shine will have faded, and I think the biggest risk to democrats is likely going to be in the house-and even there I expect the dems to lose seats but not the majority, but then I just don’t see any or much quality leadership coming out of the GOP to capitalize even if they wanted to. Things might change before 2012, but unless the GOP finds somebody who isn’t just going through the motions or isn’t completely insane or unpalatable to the electorate-even with low approvals Obama will probably win.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    The GOP isn’t doing the heavy lifting in bringing down Obama, Obama is. As was pointed out in the campaign, Obama doesn’t have much experience. And his missteps show it. The press is propping him up for now, but that won’t last forever. Imagine the same economic and international situation, the same blunders and the same skyrocketing of the deficit under a republican and then imagine the different tune of the press.

    But for the GOP, they really don’t want a clear leader out there now. Imagine if Palin was clearly in the saddle on a white horse. That would give the left a clear target to shoot back at. Instead, they are spending there time calling the electorate names. For the GOP, they want strong local changes in 2010 (including in state legislatures that will redraw congressional districts after the census) and in congress. The GOP wants that strong leader to show up in late 2011.

    Meanwhile, the economy is going to be the key factor. If it comes back, the dems can hold onto a house majority in 2010. If it doesn’t improve (or is not seen to improve), then expect massive blood letting.

  3. TangoMan says:

    Karma’s a bitch, isn’t it? Obama’s popularity is boosted by last September’s financial crisis and now his popularity is being eroded by self-inflicted crises.

  4. Joe Camel says:

    Buyers remorse is starting to sit in…(munches popcorn as the numbers continue to slide)..

  5. anjin-san says:

    Buyers remorse is starting to sit in

    Sure is. I know that I am bummed that the dow is approaching 10k and that we have a new supreme court justice that is a highly competent moderate.

  6. Jim says:

    We are seeing the difference in the promise of leadership versus leadership. As President Obama leads the country those who envisioned a different direction will tend to break away. It should be an interesting mid-term election in 2010.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    Sure is. I know that I am bummed that the dow is approaching 10k and that we have a new supreme court justice that is a highly competent moderate.

    3 million jobs lost or destroyed(and who knows how many decent used cars)multiple trillions of dollars wasted on bailing out union thugs and wall street fat cats, hostile communist takeovers of major corporations and banks, who knows how many answer to no one GREENhorn little dictators appointed to run our lives and a wiseass Latina racist on the supreme death panel?

    Happy days are almost here again!!!!!!!

  8. anjin-san says:

    3 million jobs lost or destroyed

    No one denies that the Bush Decession is a bitch…

  9. crumja says:

    I’m not concerned about the overall economy or the nonexistent health care legislation (until they finish drafting it). The economy was bound to bottom out in 2H09 regardless of fiscal policies; it doesn’t matter whether Obama or McCain is in charge. The executive branch’s influence on macroeconomic conditions is dramatically overstated.

    From a political pov, Obama’s indecisiveness and reluctance to intervene on health care combined with his eagerness to deficit spend and bail out bankrupt companies has not endeared himself to the voting public. This aspect – the political ineptitude – of his administration is what surprises and amuses me.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    No one denies that the Bush Decession is a bitch…

    lol, I forgot, Bush did it, sorry A.S.

  11. anjin-san says:

    lol, I forgot, Bush did it, sorry A.S.

    See, thats what the mushrooms do to you…

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol…..you got me.