Obama’s Poll Numbers Dip Again, Time For Democrats To Worry

A grim new poll for the President and his Democratic allies.

Obama Eyes Closed

With just over six months left until the midterm election, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the President’s job approval numbers hitting a new low, along with other signs that things aren’t looking good for Democrats in the fall:

Democrats face serious obstacles as they look to the November elections, with President Obama’s approval rating at a new low and a majority of voters saying they prefer a Congress in Republican hands to check the president’s agenda, according to a newWashington Post-ABC News poll.

Obama’s approval rating fell to 41 percent, down from 46 percent through the first three months of the year and the lowest of his presidency in Post-ABC News polls. Just 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 37 percent approve of how he is handling the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and 34 percent approve of his handling of the situation involving Ukraine and Russia.

Obama’s low rating could be a significant drag on Democratic candidates this fall — past elections suggest that when approval ratings are as low as Obama’s, the president’s party is almost certain to suffer at the ballot box in November.

Republicans are favored to maintain control of the House, with the focus now on whether they can take control of the Senate. One key question about November is who will vote. Turnout in midterm elections is always lower than in presidential elections, and at this point, key elements of the Republican coalition — namely white voters and older voters — say they are more certain to cast ballots this fall than are younger voters and minorities, two groups that Democrats and Obama relied on in 2008 and 2012.

Democrats are not without assets as the midterm election campaigns intensify. Americans trust Democrats over Republicans by 40 to 34 percent to handle the country’s main problems. By significant margins, Americans see Democrats as better for the middle class and on women’s issues. Americans favor the Democrats’ positions on raising the minimum wage, same-sex marriage and on the broad issue of dealing with global climate change.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the President’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, remains a significant liability in the polls:

The Affordable Care Act is expected to be a major issue in the midterm elections. Obama recently urged Democrats to defend the law energetically, particularly after the administration announced that 8 million people signed up for it during the initial enrollment period. Republicans are confident that opposition to the new law will energize their supporters.

The Post-ABC poll found that 44 percent say they support the law while 48 percent say they oppose it, which is about where it was at the end of last year and in January. Half of all Americans also say they think implementation is worse than expected.

Last month, a Post-ABC poll found 49 percent of Americans saying they supported the new law compared with 48 percent who opposed it. That finding was more positive for the administration than most other polls at the time. Democrats saw it as a possible leading indicator of a shift in public opinion, but that has not materialized.

A 58 percent majority say the new law is causing higher costs overall, and 47 percent say it will make the health-care system worse. While a majority say the quality of the health care they receive will remain the same, a plurality expect it to result in higher personal costs for that care.

For months now, Democrats have been pushing the idea that public opinion on the PPACA would turn around once it was fully implemented and people saw its benefits for themselves. Indeed, the Administration greeted the end of the first open enrollment period in March and the news that some 7 million people had signed up for insurance through the exchanges with much fanfare. However, that public relations effort has not stemmed the tide of negative stories about the law from people who have seen their insurance canceled or their premiums and/or deductibles drastically increased in response to the changes mandated by that law. That, combined with the fact that public opinion on the law has been negative for years now and seems fairly well baked in, suggests that any effort to turn public opinion around in the short run is doomed to fail. For that reason, it would seem that the GOP strategy to base the midterm campaign on campaigning against the law is a wise strategy, and that Democrats, especially Democratic Senators in red states, would be wise to avoid the topic as much as possible.

As for Obama’s job approval numbers, this is a new low for the ABC/Washington Post poll, but it’s largely consistent with where he is in other polling at this point in time. The current RealClearPolitics average has the President at 52.6% disapproval/43% approval, and the trend in recent months has been decidedly negative for the President:

Obama Approval RCP 429

Obviously, going into a midterm election with the leader of your party in negative territory in the polls does not bode well for Democrats in the midterms. This is especially true given the fact that they find themselves having to defend Senate seats in seven states that Obama lost in the 2012 election. With the President’s job approval numbers in the tank, and mostly likely in much worse shape in those Romney 2012 states, defending those seats is going to become ever more difficult for the Democrats, and it’s going to become very easy to Republicans to appeal to energized anti-Obama voters to come to the polls to vote against people like Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, and Mary Landrieu, and in favor of the Republican candidates running in the three open seat races being vacated by retiring Democrats. These numbers are also likely to help Republican candidates in states like Georgia and Kentucky, where Republicans face at least the prospect of having to defend Republican-held seats against stronger than expected Democratic challengers.

Perhaps of even more concern to Democrats, both for 2014 and beyond, is another new poll that shows the extent to which President Obama has lost the millennials:

A comprehensive analysis of 18- to 29-year-old Americans—the “millennial generation”—paints the Obama presidency as a squandered opportunity to convert enthusiasm for community service into political commitment.

According to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, millennials’ lack of trust in American institutions continues to drop, even below historically low numbers recorded a year ago. The institute’s latest poll shows declining faith in:

  • The presidency (32 percent, down 7 points since 2013);
  • The U.S. military (47 percent, down 7);
  • Congress (14 percent, down  4);
  • The Supreme Court (36 percent, down 4);
  • The federal government (20 percent, down 2).

Since 2010, there has been a 6-point jump in the percentage of young Americans who agree that “elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish
reasons” (62 percent) and that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results” (29 percent).

Millennials have increasingly soured on politics and government as a way to serve. Just 29 percent agreed that “the idea of working in some form of public service is appealing to me,” down 2 points since a year ago. Only 32 percent said running for office is an “honorable thing to do,” a 3-point drop.

These are jarring results in light of a broad range of statistics showing young Americans are involved in community service and volunteerism at far higher rates than baby boomers and Generation X. Millennials are eager to serve, just not in government or politics.

“Young people still care about our country,” said Harvard IOP pollster John Della Volpe, “but we will likely see more volunteerism than voting in 2014.”

If that turns out to be the case, then it’s likely to be bad news for Democrats this year. Younger voters already are typically less likely to turn out for elections in non-Presidential years to begin with, the possibility that turnout among this group will be even lower than is typical means fewer Democratic-leaning voters at the polls.

As always, it’s way to early in the process to even think about making predictions about how the midterms will turn out. However, if numbers like this keep coming out then it’s going to start looking like a pretty painful November for Democrats.

Update (4/30/2014): NBC News and The Wall Street Journal are out with a new poll that puts the Presidents disapproval/approval numbers at 44%/50%. However, it should be noted that this was a poll of adults, where as the ABC/WaPo poll is a poll of Registered Voters. Additionally, the new poll has only had minimal impact on the RealClearPolitics polling average.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think the time for worrying is long past. The president’s approval numbers have more or less stabilized at 43%. That’s bad enough that the president can’t help Democrats in their re-election campaigns but it’s not so bad that it hurts them much.

    The real problem is obscured by looking at national numbers. In general the president’s approval rating is much lower than 43% in states with Democratic senators up for re-elecion this cycle that went for Romney in 2012. Democrats in those states are in something of a pickle. And those are the states that could make a difference between holding the Senate and losing it.

  2. Scott says:

    The polls seem wildly variable with approval ratings varying by 10% or more even with a +- 4% margin of error. Not sure what is causing that: differing demographic pools (all population vs voting, e.g) or what. It just seems to be foolish to comment on one poll when the trendline of an average of polls is more revealing. The trend looking at the graph above looks pretty flat going back to Nov.

  3. Tillman says:

    Now’s a good time to rewatch the first episode of season two of Veep.

  4. Matt Bernius says:

    Well stated @Dave. This, again, is the Republican’s election to lose. However, until we get past the primaries, there are still a lot of opportunities for the Republicans to inflict a lot of self damage.

    In terms of the Harvard report, what the National Journal article fails to note that while the Millenial’s opinion of Obama is clearly down, their opinion of the GOP in Congress is right now averages over 20 points *below* Obama, and 10 points *below* Democrats in Congress.
    Source: http://www.iop.harvard.edu/political-views-related-president

    So drops in the President’s rating does not mean that the GOP is picking up those disenfranchised voters.

    All that said, the general pattern is any drop in Democrat votes is a gain for the GOP, regardless of whether or not the vote crosses over. Especially in this off year.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    The issue that the weakening of Millennial support highlights is that of turnout. If the turnout in November is low enough, anything can happen. Seats thought to be safe could switch hands. Extreme candidates could get elected.

    For the reasons that you point out the Millennials are important to the Democrats. If constituencies expected to support Democratic candidates don’t show up in November while constituencies expected to support Republican candidates do, there could be a wave where there shouldn’t be a wave.

    Note that I’m not predicting that; just pointing out its possibility.

    I continue to predict small gains in both houses by Republicans while the Senate remains Democratic if only by the smallest of margins.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Not noted; Obama’s approval is double the Republicans in Congress.
    And odds of Republican take-over of the Senate are shrinking…in large part because of…wait for it…Obamacare in Southern States. There are winnable races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina.

    However, that public relations effort has not stemmed the tide of negative stories about the law from people who have seen their insurance canceled or their premiums and/or deductibles drastically increased in response to the changes mandated by that law.

    I think what you meant to say…but your ODS prevented it…is that fact has not yet overcome fiction.

  7. Raoul says:

    A monthly poll will always have swings. Rasmussen, with a more stable universe, has Obama’s approval at 48%. By and large Obama’s approval rating throughout his presidency have been very stable- neither particular popular or unpopular. My belief is that the president will have little impact in the midterms.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I noticed this, by way of comparison:
    Congress at 14%, down 4%

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    Again, I agree with everything you wrote @Dave. My only point is that, if one looks that the details of the Harvard survey, its clear that for the moment, we’re seeing a rise in feelings of disenfranchisement, versus an overall shift in ideological orientation among milenials.

    It’s great short term news for the GOP. But looking ahead, it’s a different story.

    I’ll reserve my predictions about the Senate until we see who wins the Republican primaries. I think, for the very reasons you outline, there is a growing chance that the Republicans will retake it with the slimmest of majorities (which will be bolstered by a shift in independents caucusing ).

  10. pylon says:

    Bad news for Obama. His re-election chances are slim.

  11. Neo says:

    All of this bad news will be forgotten when “Recovery Summer V” kicks into full gear.

  12. anjin-san says:

    @ Neo

    Guess you miss the good old days before Obama Messed things up. 500K+ a month job losses, stock market in free fall, real estate market collapse with millions underwater, banks on the brink of failure, and so on…

  13. stonetools says:

    No doubt its bad news for Democrats, but this is probably the low point. I expect both the economy and the Obamacare news to get better over time. Even now, the red state Democratic races look surprisiingly good.
    You might also want to look at Rosenberg’s article, How the Democrats Can Avoid Going Down This November .The Democrats are trying a new strategy based more on field office mobilization in these elections.The Democrats are aware of the issues, and they are trying new things.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Most of the Senate races have fixed opponents now. What’s amazing is that Pryor and Hagen and Grimes are all in dead heats with their GOP opponents, and Nunn should not be discounted, either.

    I think a Democrat gain in the Senate is effectively impossible. A hold-in-place is somewhat possible. A loss while maintaining control is do-able. GOP control is also do-able, but not looking like the gimme it was a few months ago.

    I think Obama’s low numbers are largely irrelevant. Everyone’s got lousy numbers. The entire country despises the entire ruling class, though not for the same reasons.

  15. Matt says:

    I don’t approve of Obama’s performance but I can assure you my reasons should not be confused with that of the average Republican voter. I wanted single payer I wanted a roll back on the trampling of civil liberties etc etc.. Obama has been a typical corporate Democrat and I can’t approve of that.

    I’m not sure if I’m going to vote in the next election but if I do I’ll be voting Democratic as Republicans are too far from sanity for me.

  16. Kari Q says:

    It’s always best to look at the aggregate of all polls rather than a single poll in isolation. From that perspective, Obama’s numbers are steady, or perhaps ever so slightly up.

    I prefer Pollster (now at Huffington Post but not a partisan aggregation) to Real Clear Politics because it is more comprehensive and it allows you to play with the polls and change settings.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @C. Clavin:

    And odds of Republican take-over of the Senate are shrinking…in large part because of…wait for it…Obamacare in Southern States. There are winnable races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina.

    While my outlook on the Senate is not as rosy as yours, as I mentioned in another thread I’m especially interested in what’s happening in Kentucky, the only Southern state to have set up its own exchange–and one that managed to avoid the problems experienced by the federal website. Furthermore, the Democratic governor who created the exchange is extremely popular in the state, while McConnell’s poll numbers are in the tank.

  18. Tyrell says:

    Is there any survey that finds approval of something going up? Yes – Tesla cars, and the McRib.