Similarly, 43 percent said that Obama’s policies helped “avoid an even worse financial crisis and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery,” while a 48 percent plurality said that his agenda ran up “a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession.”
The depth of the anxiety over the country’s direction should be as troubling for Obama as its breadth. At least 69 percent of adults at every income level felt the country was on the wrong track, as did at least 69 percent of adults at every age range above 30. (Younger people were hardly bursting with optimism: 58 percent of them said that the country was on the wrong track, about double the share who thought it was moving in the right direction.) Whites are registering historic levels of gloom: Nearly four-fifths of them believed that the nation was on the wrong track. But even about three-fifths of Hispanics agreed. Only a majority of African-Americans expressed positive views.
The assessments of Obama’s job performance tell a story of similarly panoramic displeasure. Just 35 percent of independents said they approved, by far his worst showing in the Heartland Monitor poll. Among whites, his ratings cratered to 34 percent, also a new low. Even among white women with a college
education—consistently Obama’s strongest group in the white electorate—his ratings tumbled below 40 percent. Among adults under 30 and Hispanics, two other cornerstones of his 2008 coalition, Obama managed no more than about 50 percent approval.
Nearly four in 10 adults overall (and almost half of whites) said they strongly disapproved of his performance. Equal numbers of each group said they definitely intend to vote against him in 2012. Both of those numbers track closely with the 41 percent overall (and, again, half of whites) who said that his agenda has left the country worse off.
Besieged from so many directions, the White House might take slight encouragement from the fact that the eroding faith in Obama’s performance has not been matched by an equal ideological embrace of conservative principles. Asked about the proper role of government in society, the share that endorsed the Reagan-like view that “in the current economic environment, government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem” rose, but only slightly, to 40 percent. (There’s that number again.)
Only 27 percent, unchanged since last spring, endorsed the traditional Democratic view that “in the current economic environment, the government must play an active role in regulating the marketplace.”
The remaining 29 percent (a slight dip from 34 percent last spring) took the equivocal position that they were open to government intervening in the market “to ensure it benefits people like me” but remained uncertain that it could do so effectively. Those conflicted voters—like those who haven’t written off Obama’s agenda despite concluding it hasn’t yet produced benefits—represent the last line of defense for a president confronting a hardening core, and widening circle, of discontent.
This article appears in the Oct. 15, 2011, edition of National Journal.