President Obama’s low poll numbers trouble Democrats

01/18/2014 5:00 PM

01/18/2014 6:16 PM

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

At the end of 2013, The Washington Post’s electoral number-crunchers calculated that the Democrats had a 1 percent chance to win back the House of Representatives. Barely into 2014, that already seems pretty optimistic. In the last week, several Democratic representatives saw the writing on the wall and voted with their feet, or with their seat, and announced they will be retiring.

Even a popular president can usually expect disappointing midterm results for his party. What makes things particularly dire for Democrats is that a president’s approval rating has a significant effect on his party’s prospects. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is in the low 40s, and while things can change, few would bet it will improve all that much between now and November.

One reason for that: The Obama administration is poised to give an incredible gift to the Republican Party. Before the end of the year, up to 80 million people could see their health plans canceled. Economist Stan Veuger, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that at least half of the estimated 157 million people on employer-provided health plans will start losing their existing coverage by the end of 2014 because their plans don’t conform to the more generous, and expensive, demands of the Affordable Care Act. The bulk of the cancellation letters notifying employees should be going out in October, right before the midterm elections.

This could be the single most effective direct-mail campaign material in American history, and Republicans won’t even have to pay for the postage.

The president’s agenda for 2014, write Manu Raj and Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico, is a mix of initiatives designed to energize the Democratic base of women, students and blue-collar workers, and to attract independent voters.

Obama’s standing with all of these groups has dropped considerably since the square-wheeled “rollout” of Obamacare. Imagine how they'll feel when they’re notified that their insurance premiums (and deductibles) are going up and their doctor is no longer available.

Like the president himself, Obama’s fans have an unshakable faith in his ability to move the electorate to his side. And while it’s obviously true that he has been good at getting himself elected, he’s inversely successful at getting anyone else elected, which is why Sens. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, and Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, chose not to appear with Obama during his recent visits to their states.

In 2009, retiring Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry presciently warned that Obamacare was setting up the Democrats for a huge defeat in the 2010 midterms, just like “Hillarycare” had led to a loss of 54 House seats. Obama scoffed at such concerns. According to Berry, the president told him, “Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.” Republicans went on to win 63 House seats and six Senate seats. It was the largest swing in the House since 1938. So I guess the difference was him.

Again, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Obama’s election was supposed to be the start of a “new New Deal.” With unstoppable majorities in both the House and Senate, Obama would lift the curtain on a new progressive era where our faith in government would be restored. Now, according to Gallup, the American people consider government itself to be the No. 1 problem facing the country.

Liberals are still convinced that their vision is what America wants and needs and that Obama is the right man to deliver it. Assuming Republicans don’t immolate themselves — always a possibility — that vision will receive yet another massive rebuke in November. The interesting question then will be whether liberals question the soundness of their faith or insist that the fault lies entirely with the false prophet who failed to deliver them to the promised land.

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