Obama’s Poll Numbers Dip Again, Time For Democrats To Worry
A grim new poll for the President and his Democratic allies.
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:
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.