Poll Shows Problems for Obama, Peril for Senate Democrats

US President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press on April 2, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois, on the shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. One person was killed and 14 others wounded April 2, 2014 in a shooting incident at Fort Hood, a US official said.
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Ronald Brownstein
April 28, 2014, 1 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing re­mains omin­ously weak among the con­stitu­en­cies that could tip the battle for con­trol of the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, the latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll has found.

Obama’s over­all ap­prov­al, stand­ing at just 41 per­cent, re­mains near the low­est level ever re­cor­ded in the 20 Heart­land Mon­it­or Polls since April 2009. And only one in four adults say his ac­tions are in­creas­ing eco­nom­ic op­por­tun­ity for people like them, also among his worst show­ings in the polls. His num­bers are es­pe­cially mea­ger among the non-col­lege and older whites that dom­in­ate the elect­or­ate in the sev­en red-lean­ing states where Demo­crats must de­fend Sen­ate seats in Novem­ber.

These find­ings are taken from the 20th quarterly All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll con­duc­ted by the Stra­tegic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Prac­tice of FTI Con­sult­ing. The full res­ults, ex­plor­ing Amer­ic­ans’ views on how to drive so­cial and polit­ic­al change, will be pub­lished next month in Na­tion­al Journ­al’s magazine.

The one solace for Demo­crats in the new poll is that Con­gress is even more un­pop­u­lar than the pres­id­ent. Just 11 per­cent of those sur­veyed said they ap­proved of Con­gress’s per­form­ance, while 80 per­cent dis­ap­proved. In the five times the Heart­land Mon­it­or has tested Con­gress’ rat­ing since Novem­ber 2012, only last Novem­ber did it score more poorly, with just 9 per­cent ap­prov­ing and 84 per­cent dis­ap­prov­ing.

Gen­er­ally, though, at­ti­tudes to­ward the in­cum­bent pres­id­ent have played a big­ger role than views about Con­gress in shap­ing the res­ults of mid-term elec­tions. And at­ti­tudes to­ward Obama, and the na­tion’s dir­ec­tion, re­main dis­tinctly chilly.

Just 27 per­cent of those polled said they be­lieved the coun­try is mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion; 62 per­cent say they con­sider it off on the wrong track. That’s slightly bet­ter than the res­ults last fall, but much gloom­i­er than the as­sess­ment around Obama’s reelec­tion in fall 2012. The ra­cial gap on this ques­tion is huge: 41 per­cent of minor­it­ies say the coun­try is mov­ing in the right dir­ec­tion, but only about half as many whites (22 per­cent) agree. (Among whites without a col­lege de­gree, just one in six see the coun­try mov­ing on the right track, only about half the level among whites with at least a four-year de­gree.)

In the new sur­vey, 41 per­cent of adults said they ap­proved of Obama’s job per­form­ance while 52 per­cent dis­ap­proved. Since 2009, the quarterly Heart­land Mon­it­or Polls have re­cor­ded lower ap­prov­al rat­ings for him only last Novem­ber (at 38 per­cent) and last Septem­ber (at 40 per­cent). The dif­fer­ence between those show­ings and the latest res­ult falls with­in the sur­vey’s 3.1 per­cent­age point mar­gin of er­ror.

In the latest poll, Obama also faces a for­mid­able in­tens­ity gap that could fore­shad­ow turnout chal­lenges for Demo­crats: The share of adults who strongly dis­ap­prove of his per­form­ance (39 per­cent) is nearly double that of those who strongly ap­prove (21 per­cent).

More troub­ling for Demo­crats still may be his es­pe­cially pre­cari­ous po­s­i­tion with con­stitu­en­cies that loom large for the sev­en Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates try­ing to hold Sen­ate seats in states that voted for Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

In all of those states — Alaska, Arkan­sas, Louisi­ana, Montana, North Car­o­lina, South Dakota and West Vir­gin­ia — older whites and whites without a four-year col­lege de­gree rep­res­ent a sub­stan­tial share of the elect­or­ate. Whites over­all rep­res­ent a lar­ger share of the vote than they do na­tion­ally in all of these states ex­cept for North Car­o­lina and Louisi­ana.

Obama’s na­tion­al stand­ing re­mains tenu­ous in the new Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll with the groups that are key in those states. Among whites over­all, just 35 per­cent said they ap­prove of his per­form­ance, while 59 per­cent dis­ap­prove. That’s a slight im­prove­ment from the pre­vi­ous two Heart­land Mon­it­or Polls last fall, but still at the lower end of his range among whites since tak­ing of­fice. Obama faces an even lar­ger 62 per­cent dis­ap­prov­al from both non-col­lege whites and whites older than 50; only about one-third of each group ap­prove of his per­form­ance.

His num­bers look no bet­ter on a Heart­land Mon­it­or trend ques­tion that asks Amer­ic­ans how Obama’s ac­tions will af­fect their eco­nom­ic pro­spects. Just 25 per­cent of all re­spond­ents said they be­lieved his agenda would in­crease op­por­tun­it­ies for people like them. That’s the smal­lest pos­it­ive re­sponse the poll has re­cor­ded ex­cept for the two sur­veys last fall. In the new poll, a full 46 per­cent said they be­lieved his ac­tions would di­min­ish their op­por­tun­it­ies-es­sen­tially ty­ing the 47 per­cent in each of last fall’s polls as his worst show­ing on that meas­ure. The re­main­ing 23 per­cent said they did not think his ac­tions would af­fect their op­por­tun­it­ies.

Even these slim res­ults are boos­ted by en­dur­ing con­fid­ence among minor­it­ies: 40 per­cent of non-white re­spond­ents said Obama’s agenda would in­crease their op­por­tun­it­ies, com­pared to 24 per­cent who be­lieve it will re­duce them. But among whites, just 19 per­cent say he is in­creas­ing their chances, while a re­sound­ing 55 per­cent say he is di­min­ish­ing them.

Those num­bers don’t dif­fer much among whites older and young­er than 50 but they are es­pe­cially bad among the blue-col­lar whites who mat­ter so much in the red-lean­ing states where Demo­crats must de­fend Sen­ate seats this year. Whites without a col­lege de­gree were nearly four times as likely to say Obama’s ac­tion are de­creas­ing, rather than in­creas­ing, their op­por­tun­it­ies to get ahead.

The Demo­crat­ic red-state Sen­ate in­cum­bents fa­cing voters this year in Alaska, Arkan­sas, Louisi­ana and North Car­o­lina are demon­strat­ing sur­pris­ing re­si­li­ence in polls. But the per­vas­ive skep­ti­cism about Obama’s per­form­ance and agenda among older and blue-col­lar whites re­mains a power­ful head­wind threat­en­ing their hold on those seats — and their party’s hold over the Sen­ate.

The latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or sur­vey is the 20th in a series ex­amin­ing how Amer­ic­ans are ex­per­i­en­cing the chan­ging eco­nomy. The poll was con­duc­ted April 9-13 with 1,000 re­spond­ents reached by land­line and cell phones. The sur­vey was su­per­vised by Ed Re­illy, Brent McGoldrick, Jeremy Ruch and Jocelyn Land­au of the Stra­tegic Com­mu­nic­a­tions Prac­tice of FTI Con­sult­ing and has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.1 per­cent­age points.


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