- - Friday, October 24, 2014


President Obama’s crumbling popularity is being led by his formerly strongest supporters. That is the inescapable conclusion coming from current poll numbers. When it comes to their base supporters on Nov. 4, Democrats’ real question may not be one of turnout, but of turnoff.

Mr. Obama’s fall in the polls is well documented, as he regularly hits new lows. What is unrecognized is that the drop largely comes from his core supporters.

While seemingly counterintuitive, it makes sense when looking across the political spectrum. As early as 2012, it was clear the president had little support left to lose in broad areas of the electorate. According to 2012 presidential election exit polling, Mr. Obama lost whites, males, independents, conservatives, the suburbs, rural areas and, of course, Republicans.

If Mr. Obama is experiencing nationwide attrition in his support now, it has to come from where it used to be strong. And coming it is.

Take a look at seven major groups — women, blacks, Hispanics, young people aged 18 to 29, liberals, moderates and Democrats — that made up his core supporters in his two presidential elections. Among five of these, Mr. Obama saw support drop from 2008 to 2012; however, the drop since 2012 has been far greater and across all seven.

Comparing the president’s average presidential-election support from these groups with their job-approval ratings of him in the latest The Economist-YouGov poll and the extent of his declining support becomes clear.

Among women, Mr. Obama’s fall is 14.5 percentage points. Among blacks, it is 20 percentage points. With Hispanics, Mr. Obama has fallen 22.5 percentage points, and with 18- to 29-year-olds, 15 percentage points. For liberals and moderates, the drops are 12 percentage points and 14 percentage points, respectively. Even among Democrats, the president has lost 11.5 percentage points.

On average, Mr. Obama is experiencing a 15.6 percentage point drop in support among these seven core groups. Each group’s drop in approval has been almost matched by a rise in their disapproval of the president’s job performance.

Equally troubling for Mr. Obama is that the support he still retains among these seven groups is soft. For all these groups, their ratios of strong approval to overall approval are well below 50 percent. Even for blacks, the leading group in this ratio, their strong approval is just 43 percent of their total approval. For the rest, it is roughly 33 percent of their total approval.

While his support is soft among core supporters, his opposition among them is hard. Among women, Hispanics, 18- to 29-year-olds and moderates, Mr. Obama’s strong approval rating is greatly surpassed by their strong disapproval rating of him.

Among five of these seven groups (women, blacks, Hispanics, 18- to 29-year-olds and moderates), Mr. Obama’s ratio of strong disapproval to overall disapproval is more 50 percent.

This pattern of soft support and hard opposition is exactly what Mr. Obama registers in the broader electorate. That this pattern is now emerging within his base signals a whole new level of trouble for the president and even more for Democrats.

Small wonder Democrats are worried about turnout in the upcoming midterm election. In 2010, Obama supporters made up smaller percentages of the total electorate than they had in 2008. That was when Mr. Obama was far more popular with them. What will happen now when he is not?

Yet, Democrats’ real concern should extend beyond turnout, and even beyond this election. If these core supporters do not come out in November, what likelihood is there that they will be back in 2016?

November’s election will be an important indicator of just how much the presidential product has damaged the Democratic brand among its most loyal consumers. While talk during the days running up to Nov. 4 will be of the nuts and bolts of politics — get-out-the-vote efforts and ads — the real concern for Democrats will be hearts and minds. Although Mr. Obama will never run for election again, Democrats will be relying on their base for future success.

The question will be how much support is left, because right now, one thing is clear: There is a lot less than there used to be.

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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