by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
President Barack Obama dismisses popularity polls as an unhealthy obsession of vainglorious politicians. This view also may be beneficial for his own psyche, since he has been scraping bottom in many of them. But our president’s polls-be-damned attitude is disastrous for his Democratic Party as midterm elections draw nigh—which explains why more and more loyalists are breaking its code of omertà and lashing out at him. Witness last week’s story in the New York Times featuring whining Democratic U.S. senators. Fearful of being dragged down to defeat by Obama, they are distancing themselves from him.
Midterm elections, with rare exceptions, are referendums on the White House’s performance (even if, as is currently the case, Congress’ approval rating is even lower than the president’s). Political consultant John Davis of North Carolina notes that since 1910, the president’s party has lost seats—on average, 30 in the House and four in the Senate—in midterm races, with just two exceptions: Bill Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002.
In 2010—Obama’s first midterm-election year—Democrats lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats, and the president’s approval rating back then was about 45%, four percentage points higher than it was in a recent Gallup Poll. The president’s popularity suffers mainly because the public dislikes his handling of the economy and foreign affairs. This dissatisfaction has been fairly steady for months. Back in June, Obama’s polling numbers in a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll were so low that NBC’s political expert Chuck Todd exclaimed on air, “Essentially, the public is saying, ‘Your presidency is over!’ ” Fifty-four percent of the poll’s respondents said that they no longer feel the president “is able to lead the country and get the job done,” versus 42% who said that he is. And 41% of the respondents said his administration’s performance had gotten worse over the past year, compared with the 15% who noted improvement.