Obama's Sinking Approval Could Drag Democrats Down With Him

The one solace for his party: Congress is even more unpopular than the president. 
Larry Downing/Reuters

President Obama's approval rating remains ominously weak among the constituencies that could tip the battle for control of the Senate in November, the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll has found.

Obama's overall approval, standing at just 41 percent, remains near the lowest level ever recorded in the 20 Heartland Monitor Polls since April 2009. And only one in four adults say his actions are increasing economic opportunity for people like them, also among his worst showings in the polls. His numbers are especially meager among the non-college and older whites that dominate the electorate in the seven red-leaning states where Democrats must defend Senate seats in November. These findings are taken from the 20th quarterly Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll conducted by the Strategic Communications Practice of FTI Consulting.

The one solace for Democrats in the new poll is that Congress is even more unpopular than the president. Just 11 percent of those surveyed said they approved of Congress's performance, while 80 percent disapproved. In the five times the Heartland Monitor has tested Congress' rating since November 2012, only last November did it score more poorly, with just 9 percent approving and 84 percent disapproving.

Generally, though, attitudes toward the incumbent president have played a bigger role than views about Congress in shaping the results of midterm elections. And attitudes toward Obama, and the nation's direction, remain distinctly chilly.

Just 27 percent of those polled said they believed the country is moving in the right direction; 62 percent say they consider it off on the wrong track. That's slightly better than the results last fall, but much gloomier than the assessment around Obama's reelection in fall 2012. The racial gap on this question is huge: 41 percent of minorities say the country is moving in the right direction, but only about half as many whites (22 percent) agree. (Among whites without a college degree, just one in six see the country moving on the right track, only about half the level among whites with at least a four-year degree.)

In the new survey, 41 percent of adults said they approved of Obama's job performance while 52 percent disapproved. Since 2009, the quarterly Heartland Monitor Polls have recorded lower approval ratings for him only last November (at 38 percent) and last September (at 40 percent). The difference between those showings and the latest result falls within the survey's 3.1 percentage point margin of error.

In the latest poll, Obama also faces a formidable intensity gap that could foreshadow turnout challenges for Democrats: The share of adults who strongly disapprove of his performance (39 percent) is nearly double that of those who strongly approve (21 percent).

More troubling for Democrats still may be his especially precarious position with constituencies that loom large for the seven Democratic candidates trying to hold Senate seats in states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.

In all of those states—Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia—older whites and whites without a four-year college degree represent a substantial share of the electorate. Whites overall represent a larger share of the vote than they do nationally in all of these states except for North Carolina and Louisiana.

Obama's national standing remains tenuous in the new Heartland Monitor Poll with the groups that are key in those states. Among whites overall, just 35 percent said they approve of his performance, while 59 percent disapprove. That's a slight improvement from the previous two Heartland Monitor Polls last fall, but still at the lower end of his range among whites since taking office. Obama faces an even larger 62 percent disapproval from both non-college whites and whites older than 50; only about one-third of each group approve of his performance.

Presented by

Ronald Brownstein is Atlantic Media's editorial director for strategic partnerships. More

Ronald Brownstein, a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of presidential campaigns, is Atlantic Media's editorial director for strategic partnerships, in charge of long-term editorial strategy. He also writes a weekly column and regularly contributes other pieces for the National Journal, contributes to Quartz, and The Atlantic, and coordinates political coverage and activities across publications produced by Atlantic Media.

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