- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2014

As voters cast their final verdict on President Obama Tuesday, Democratic hope has changed to frustration.

The president isn’t on the ballot, although he insists, with poorly timed pride, that the midterm election is a referendum on his agenda. Democratic candidates who are trying to keep control of the Senate hope voters aren’t listening to him.

The election finds Mr. Obama near his lowest job approval rating and leaking support from almost every part of his original winning 2008 coalition: women, minorities and young voters. More than two out of three voters now believe the nation is on the wrong track.

What happened?

“He lost a lot of his base because he overpromised and underperformed,” said Charles Lipson, professor of political science and director of the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security at the University of Chicago. “There’s a lot to be disappointed with.”

Hispanics were among the first in Mr. Obama’s coalition to suffer a letdown when he broke his promise to approve immigration reform in the first year of his presidency. Now, in the closing months of the sixth year of his presidency, Mr. Obama is vowing to sign an executive order that is expected to grant amnesty to a significant share of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. — after Tuesday’s vote.

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But Democrats’ frustration over the president’s unfulfilled promise is so palpable that protesters routinely heckle Mr. Obama about U.S. immigration policy during his speeches. His response is to tell the protesters to heckle Republicans instead.

At a campaign rally in Milwaukee last week, a young woman interrupted the president to complain about the lack of a comprehensive immigration reform law.

Mr. Obama told the crowd, “The problem is, she should be protesting the Republicans who are blocking it in Congress. That’s what she should be doing. Because I’m for it.”

While Hispanic voters still strongly favor Democratic candidates, such disillusionment is factoring into an enthusiasm gap between the parties this year, with pollsters saying Republican voters are more motivated to go to the polls.

Young voters, so important to the president’s winning coalitions in 2008 and 2012, are also leaving Mr. Obama in droves.

A Harvard University Institute of Politics survey last week found that 18-to-29-year-olds most likely to vote this year favor Republicans over Democrats, 51 percent to 47 percent. That is a reversal from 2010, when the same poll showed that “millennial” voters favored Democrats over Republicans 55 percent to 43 percent.

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Among the young Americans who are most likely to vote, the president’s job approval rating is 42 percent. Nearly six of 10 of those young voters disapprove of Obamacare.

“Millennials have not seen the kind of economic opportunities they hoped to see or their parents had hoped to see for them,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, president of North Star Opinion Strategies. “They’re middle-class people who had hoped to see a much more robust recovery than we’ve experienced so far. It’s hard to get a robust recovery going if you’ve got a wet blanket named Obamacare draped over the economy.”

Arguing over the economy

Team Obama clearly understands it is still fighting voter dissatisfaction with the economy. First lady Michelle Obama, who has been more in demand on the campaign trail this fall than her unpopular husband, frequently reminds voters about the dismal state of the economy when Mr. Obama took office in 2009.

“I want to take us back a little bit, to remember how bad things were back then,” Mrs. Obama said at a rally for Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado on Oct. 23. “See, because sometimes, when things get better, we forget how bad they were. But we were in full-blown crisis mode. And I know there are young people here too young to even know. Our economy was literally on the brink of collapse.”

In addition to the slow recovery, Mr. Lipson said some young voters also are disillusioned with the administration’s response to revelations of domestic snooping by the National Security Agency, believing Mr. Obama should have taken a stronger stand for privacy.

“Almost everybody has been disappointed with [the president’s] failure to fulfill the promise of transparency,” Mr. Lipson said. “But millennials who live on the Internet have been really disturbed by the government’s intrusive actions in terms of spying on what they consider private communications.”

He said the spying resonates with young voters “because what they read into the president’s promise of ‘Hope and Change’ is that the government won’t behave like usual.”

Instead, he said, “what they’ve seen is that the government does behave in much the same way that it always has — the truth when it wants, unanswerable when it doesn’t want to answer public questions, inefficient when it rolls out big programs like Obamacare and untruthful when it’s asked straightforward questions about them.”

The president and his aides frequently blame congressional Republicans for blocking Mr. Obama’s initiatives on everything from background checks on gun purchases to increasing the federal minimum wage. But there are some indications that argument isn’t getting much traction any longer.

Nathaniel Morris, a second-year student at Harvard Medical School who has turned away from Mr. Obama, said in an op-ed for CNN this fall that he’s not swayed by Democrats who blame Republicans’ stalling tactics for what he views as the government’s shortcomings.

“Republican obstructionism cannot explain allowing the bugging of foreign leaders, nor having drones strike innocent children overseas,” Mr. Morris wrote. “It cannot explain having the National Security Agency collect data on the private lives of Americans, nor prosecuting whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing.”

Women too are showing signs of dissatisfaction with the president. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last week, 69 percent of female voters said the country is on the wrong track, compared with 66 percent of men who felt the same way. Only 26 percent of women said the country is on the right track, compared with 29 percent of men.

“They have the same frustrations men do about the lack of economic growth, about the frustrations with lost coverage, higher prices, health insurance,” Mr. Ayres said. He added that the recent concerns about Ebola, which rates third in importance for voters, “fits into the entire ‘Do they really know what they’re doing?’ message.”

The president has been trying to rally women voters in the final days of the campaign. Mr. Obama’s approval rating among women is nearly even with that of men, according to the Gallup tracking poll; when he was re-elected in 2012, he had the support of 55 percent of female voters, compared with 45 percent of male voters.

Examples of government incompetence, from the botched rollout of Obamacare last year to the problems exposed in health care for veterans, are also hurting Mr. Obama and his party.

The ABC/Post poll found that 63 percent of voters believe the federal government’s ability to deal with problems has grown worse in the last few years, while only 11 percent say it has improved. Of the voters who said the government is worse at handling problems, nearly three times as many people blamed Mr. Obama and the Democrats as those who blamed the GOP.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged “plenty of skepticism” about the government’s ability to solve problems, but said Mr. Obama has been “aggressive” in his response on everything from the economic recovery to building a coalition to fight the Islamic State terrorist group.

“A close examination of this president’s record indicates that people can feel very good about the United States government, particularly under leadership of this president, being a force for good in the world,” Mr. Earnest said last week.

Left flank woes

There’s also a segment of the far left of the Democratic Party that has lost patience with Mr. Obama’s inability to enact the more activist progressive agenda that they expected.

“It’s true that the Keystone Pipeline didn’t get built, but he hasn’t actually rejected it, he’s just voted ‘present,’” Mr. Lipson said. “It’s true that they rolled out a big national health care program, but these are people who wanted the single-payer option. It’s true that they’re regulating the banks, but nobody went to jail for what looked like a massive fraud on the public. There’s a kind of bloom off the rose on the left.”

Faced with a series of unresolved crises that includes a new war against Islamic State terrorists, Mr. Lipson said, it’s surprising that the president’s job approval ratings haven’t fallen even lower than the 40 percent mark.

“One can only imagine what President Obama’s ratings would be like if two other things were different: one, if he didn’t have continuing, overwhelming support from the African-American community; and if mass media actually did their job investigating serious allegations against the administration on a whole range of issues — Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious,” he said. “About 70 percent of the country thinks we’re on the wrong track. The fact that the president’s popularity remains around 40 percent is actually strikingly high given how many problems there have been.”

Despite these strong currents against Mr. Obama, the president has been trying in the waning days of the campaign to revive his nearly forgotten promise of “Hope and Change.”

“Don’t be cynical, be hopeful,” Mr. Obama told supporters in Milwaukee last week. “Because America is making progress. Despite unyielding opposition, there are workers who have jobs now that didn’t have them before. There are families who have health insurance who didn’t have it before. There are students going to college who didn’t have it before.”

He added, “Cynicism has never ended a war. Cynicism is a choice. And hope is a better choice.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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