- - Monday, August 18, 2014

Barack Obama’s presidency isn’t just shrinking, it’s losing support among its most critical point — its base. Less than two years ago, Barack Obama became the first Democratic president since FDR to win re-election with a popular-vote majority. Since then, his support has dropped dramatically — not just overall, but among important constituent groups.

Comparing 2012 exit poll results with an Aug. 8 McClatchy-Marist nationwide poll shows how far Mr. Obama has fallen with various segments of the population. In 2012, Mr. Obama won among women 55 percent to 44 percent. Today, his approval rating among women is 41 percent, with 51 percent disapproving. Among political moderates, Mr. Obama has gone from a 56 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval in 2012 to 42 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval today.

Among Hispanics, the president has gone from a 71 percent and 21 percent winning margin in 2012 to a 34 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval split. Using the same comparison, Mr. Obama has seen the Midwest, those making less than $50,000, 30-to-49-year-olds, and both college graduates and noncollege graduates flip against him.

Pivotal independent voters, already having voted against Mr. Obama 45 percent and 50 percent in 2012, now register just a 35 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval rating.

Even among those continuing to support the president, there has been notable attrition. Democrats voted 92 percent to 7 percent for him in 2012, but register an 80 percent to 14 percent approval and disapproval today. Blacks have gone from 93 percent and 6 percent in 2012 to a 79 percent and 9 percent split today. Liberals have gone from 86 percent and 11 percent in 2012 to 77 percent and 16 percent currently. Unmarrieds and adults from the East and Northeast have shown similar drops.

The reasons for these declines are manifest. While Mr. Obama saw his first term support drop over the economy, Obamacare and the budget, these have been exacerbated by the botched Obamacare rollout and the economy’s continued poor performance. They have also been supplemented with recent foreign-policy failures and the Mexican border immigration crisis. These latest problems have been particularly harmful to his support among his base.

Mr. Obama’s loss of popularity has not just been qualitative but quantitative. Virtually across the board, among groups in which Mr. Obama still had support to lose, he has lost it in roughly double-digit chunks. Today, the president’s support can be identified in just five major groups: Democrats, liberals, blacks, 18-to-29-year-olds and the Northeasterners. Even in this shrunken core, Mr. Obama has seen notable declines.

There are ramifications to these declines, both for the White House and the nation. A president can stand only as tall when the base beneath him is solid. The narrower the base, the smaller the president’s influence.

The power of the presidency is not easily squandered, and even when policy and persuasion fail, the prestige of the office still commands respect. However, a president cannot lead without followers. No matter how you seek to spin it, if the people are not behind you, you are not leading. Right now, Mr. Obama is not leading.

In our executive branch-dominated government, a president’s inability to lead creates a vacuum. A more equitable balancing of power between the branches of government would be a welcome development in itself, but not if it simply arises from the president’s inability to perform his own role.

Even more concerning is Mr. Obama’s clear opposition to Congress assuming a greater role in leadership. Therefore, America faces a growing vacuum. As the president’s influence continues to wane, Congress will be not just encouraged, but required to assert itself. Yet at the same time, Mr. Obama is likely to resist it all the more in hopes of retaining the little support he still holds. Prospects for functional governance are not appealing for the remainder of the president’s term.

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.

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