“Hope” wasn’t just a major theme of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It also might be a one-word summation of the 2010 midterm campaign strategy devised by the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill. They hope voters get more comfortable with healthcare reform. They hope voters really care about the technocratic bank bill. And, most importantly, they hope voters begin to sense some impact of a slowly recovering economy on their personal financial situation.
Oh, and they sure hope the dang hole gets plugged, of course. It’s that last one that’s really biting Democrats at the moment. Obama’s approval rating, after more than a year on the downswing, had finally turned around in April. Then came the gusher in the Gulf. The president’s numbers are now at the lowest level of his presidency. According to weekly Gallup polling, just 46 percent of Americans approve of his job performance (with 46 percent disapproving). If history is a guide, Democrats will suffer heavy losses should Obama’s low numbers persist into November.
Certainly the BP “well control incident” — as the company might put it — is playing a big role in all this. Polls consistently show a ten percentage point gap between those who think Obama is blowing it vs. those who think he’s on top of things. And the closer voters are to the spill, the more critical they are. Just take a look at these numbers from Public Policy Polling. While Louisianans are way angrier with BP than Washington by 53 percent to 29 percent, they are pretty mad at both. By 50 percent to 35 percent, they now think President George W. Bush did a better job handling Hurricane Katrina than Obama’s job responding to the oil spill. Maybe Obama’s prime-time energy speech will turn things around. We’ll see.
But the prime shaper of the 2010 political backdrop is still the economy. A growing gaggle of economists now fret that growth will decelerate in the second half of 2010. Even bullish Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve is looking at a Plan B should the economy slow sharply. No double-dip recession, perhaps, but not enough economic oomph to dramatically lower the unemployment rate. In fact, it may again top the 10 percent level before year end. And if it doesn’t, the reason is more likely a shrinking labor force — as measured by government statisticians — than a surge of new jobs.
And the following numbers will only add to the sense of deepening Democratic gloom. A poll for NPR looked at the state of the races in 70 competitive House districts. Just 41 percent of voters favored Dems vs. 49 percent for the GOP. In the 30 most-competitive districts currently held by Democrats, Republicans led 48 percent to 39 percent. And in the 60 Dem districts overall, Obama had just a 40 percent approval rating.
But these results may be the ones most worrisome to Obamacrats in Washington. Only 37 percent of voters in the Dem districts believed the following: “President Obama’s economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis, and are laying the foundation for our eventual economic recovery.” On the other hand, 57 percent agreed with this statement: “President Obama’s economic policies have run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.”
In Washington, they call that “losing the narrative.” Democrats can only hope they can somehow get it back.