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.
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.