President Obama Still Has His Base. It Just Isn’t All That Crazy About Him.

The president has sky-high approval among liberal Democrats. But fewer and fewer of them are big fans.

Demonstrators near a McDonald's restaurant outside of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as part of a nationwide protest of fast food workers, stand on a poster of US President Barack Obama December 5, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
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Matt Berman
Dec. 17, 2013, 5:25 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama hasn’t had the greatest 2013. Ac­cord­ing to a new ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post poll, the pres­id­ent is end­ing the year with a 43 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing, match­ing the low­est point of his pres­id­ency. And his sup­port­ers aren’t nearly as bois­ter­ous as his de­tract­ors. Just 23 per­cent of all re­spond­ents strongly ap­prove of his job per­form­ance, com­pared with the 41 per­cent who strongly dis­ap­prove.

The pres­id­ent still has his fan base. It’s just that, these days, it isn’t too ra­bid.

While the pres­id­ent has a 90 per­cent ap­prov­al rat­ing among self-de­scribed lib­er­al Demo­crats, only 54 per­cent of that group “very strongly” ap­prove of Obama, ac­cord­ing to new data from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. Thirty-two per­cent of that group ex­pli­citly ap­prove of the pres­id­ent “not so strongly.”

It hasn’t al­ways been this way. This past June, Obama had strong sup­port from 73 per­cent of lib­er­al Demo­crats, and had “not so strong” sup­port from just 17 per­cent. The nose­dive is most pro­nounced among lib­er­als ages 18-49, only 46 per­cent of whom now strongly sup­port the pres­id­ent, com­pared wth 65 per­cent of lib­er­als over 50.

(Pew Research) Pew Research

(Pew Re­search)The drop in strong ap­prov­al among lib­er­als — wheth­er be­cause of the NSA scan­dals, the stale­mate on im­mig­ra­tion re­form, the Obama­care rol­lout, or any­thing else — presents a strong con­trast to George W. Bush’s base five years in. Even though Bush’s base was smal­ler, it was far more vehe­ment in its sup­port.

Tues­day’s Wash­ing­ton Post poll is ob­vi­ously bad news for the pres­id­ent, es­pe­cially head­ing in­to an­oth­er round of midterm elec­tions. But the ap­par­ent en­thu­si­asm gap, if it con­tin­ues on its cur­rent trend, could be a har­binger of much big­ger 2014 prob­lems — al­though the out­look is slightly bet­ter be­cause older Amer­ic­ans vote in high­er num­bers in mid­ter­rm elec­tions than do young­er Amer­ic­ans. Demo­crats will have to hope that the pres­id­ent’s on-again, off-again re­la­tion­ship with lib­er­als hits a hot streak next fall.

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