Earlier this month Democrats were sounding more optimistic about their political prospects than they had been in more than a year. Though their credibility was doubtful, the ObamaCare enrollment figures were enough to cause the president to do not one, but two separate touchdown dances over the fact that the government had managed to cajole several million Americans to sign up on the Healthcare.gov website. All this was enough to cause many left-leaning pundits to rethink their pessimism about the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of the Senate. But, like the upbeat stories about ObamaCare that will look pretty silly once the delayed unpopular mandates are put into place and insurance costs start skyrocketing, the liberal happy talk about 2014 was always bound to crash and burn sooner rather than later. As the new Washington Post/ABC News poll published today illustrates, the administration is actually more unpopular than ever.
The Post/ABC poll shows President Obama’s approval rating sinking to a new low—41 percent—and a clear majority of voters stating that they believe Republicans should control Congress to act as a check on the administration’s agenda. This is a significant blow to Democratic hopes of building some momentum to derail a big midterm victory for the GOP. But what is truly interesting about the numbers is that they show that it is not just ObamaCare that is hurting the Democrats. The president’s foreign-policy failures are now starting to impact his standing with the public in a manner they haven’t done before.
Breaking the numbers down on an issue-by-issue analysis, it’s clear that the country’s chronic problems are still damaging the president’s poll numbers. The 54-42 percent margin of disapproval for Obama’s handling of the economy remains the Democrats’ big problem heading into a congressional election where they are already at a disadvantage because of the need to defend so many of the Senate seats won in the president’s 2008 victory. The 57-37 percent result with respect to disapproval of the way Obama handled the rollout of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is also, despite the early April happy talk, an impenetrable obstacle to Democrats seeking votes in non-blue states. Given that the poll was conducted in the aftermath of the administration’s efforts to hype what they considered to be the success of the health-care law, this is a staggering blow to those liberals who have been insisting that its popularity would finally begin to grow after years of the majority of Americans opposing the measure.
Nor can Democrats take their usual solace from the unpopularity of Congress and their faith that House Republicans will always be blamed more for the country’s problems than the administration. When asked to apportion responsibility for the country not being on the right track (respondents said the country was heading in the wrong direction by a staggering 66-30 percent margin), 40 percent said it was both parties’ fault with 18 percent blaming the president and the Democrats and only six percent saying it was the fault of the Republicans in Congress. This dovetails with the answers to the question about whether it was necessary to have the Congress in the hands of Obama’s opponents so as to put a brake on his agenda.
The poll also should dispel Democratic optimism about ObamaCare’s popularity growing. As the Post’s Dan Balz and Peyton M. Craighill report:
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.
But what is also interesting is that foreign and defense policy—issues that have been a source of strength for the president—may now be a distinct liability. Whereas the president was able to portray himself as tougher than Mitt Romney in 2012 by reminding voters who was the one who ordered Osama bin Laden’s killing, the humiliations he has suffered on Syria and now Ukraine have undermined that narrative. Indeed, fewer Americans approve of the president’s handling of the Ukraine crisis (34 percent) than of the way he managed the ObamaCare rollout (37 percent) with large majorities disapproving of both.
The Democrats are not without assets heading into November. Their dominance on social issues as they beat the drums for their faux “war on women” campaign against the GOP is something they hope to exploit. Their embrace of a populist message on income inequality may be economic snake oil but it also has traction with much of the public. But, as the Post points out, Obama’s popularity is now roughly comparable to that of George W. Bush at the same point in his presidency. That is a depressing reminder for Democrats who have been seeking a reason to believe that they would somehow beat the odds and history and not suffer the usual walloping that the party in power gets during the midterm election of a second-term presidency. Despite the early April optimism about the Democrats that the administration’s media cheerleaders have been feeding the public, the outlook remains grim for a president sinking inevitably into lame duck irrelevance.