This week several national polls were released. If you shift through and aggregate the data, they spell trouble for Democrats in the mid-term elections later this year. Here’s why.
Historically, mid-term elections in the second term of a presidency are rough on the party in power. In this case, the president’s overall approval rating is in the low-to-mid 40s, meaning Senate Democrats in red states (where the president’s approval ratings are even lower) need to run roughly 10 points ahead of Mr. Obama to win. That’s tough.
In addition, by several key metrics Democrats are in worse shape now than they were at a comparable time in 2010, when Republicans won the most lopsided mid-term election since before the middle part of the last century. The generic ballot right now is essentially tied, which is historically good news for the GOP. Voter intensity favors Republicans, while some key Democratic constituencies (like young voters) are losing interest in politics. The president’s policies are generally quite unpopular, with little evidence that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing (independents oppose it more than they favor it by double digits). The economy remains sluggish (growth in the first quarter of this year was only 0.1 percent). There is widespread pessimism in the country and near-record distrust of government.
The political landscape for Democrats, then, is treacherous, and the president knows that another blowout in a mid-term election will not only complicate the last two years of his presidency but also damage his legacy.
In response, the White House seems to have settled on a strategy of trying to energize its base voters, which means the president is going to focus on “wedge issues” rather than common ground with Republicans; and ratchet up rather than down his polarizing language.
My guess is the president and his party will gain relatively little electorally from this. On the flip side, he will continue to discredit what was once his most appealing quality as a political leader–his promise that he would put an end to “the politics that breeds division and conflict and cynicism”; that he would not pit red America against blue America; and that he would help Americans to “rediscover our bonds to each other and to get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.”
No one believes that has happened, and in fact polls suggest Mr. Obama to be the most polarizing president in the history of modern polling. Democrats will blame Republicans for the bitter nature of our politics while Republicans will say that the responsibility for this rests with him rather than his critics. Whatever the case, there is no dispute about the fact that the president has failed to achieve his core commitment when he first ran. Having to explain failure is never a good position for a president to be in; but that is the situation Mr. Obama finds himself in these days, on issue after issue.
The Obama presidency continues to come apart.