A Quinnipiac University National Poll released January 22nd reveals that American voters rate President Barack Obama’s leadership on the economy, jobs, and healthcare as very poor; his only positive marks come from fighting terrorism.
Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign narrative argued that President George W. Bush and the Republicans were so interested in fighting a “War on Terror” they had failed America at home. At his victory speech on November 5, 2008, President-elect Obama bellowed: “Tonight, because what we did in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.” According to a Gallup Poll, after the same number of days in office for President Obama and President Bush, they have virtually identical public approval ratings of 46%. However, Americans are 24% more dissatisfied with their government under Obama than under Bush.
The president’s party usually suffers significant congressional election losses in the sixth year of his administration. However, with Obama’s popularity at the same Bush levels that caused Republicans huge losses in 2006 but with voter dissatisfaction with government roughly 50% higher, the Democratic Party appears poised to suffer an epic election disaster in 2014.
The November 2006 United States midterm elections featured contests for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 seats in the Senate, 36 state governorships, and many legislatures. The elections resulted in a convincing Democratic Party victory. They captured 30 seats to take control of the House of Representatives, six seats to take control of the Senate, six governorships, and took control of four more state legislatures from the Republicans. The election was also the first time in American history in which the losses for one side were so lopsided that the victorious party did not lose a single incumbent or open seat in Congress or in a governor’s mansion.
Midterm elections tend to act as referendums on the president’s popularity and the state of the nation. The American public views the elections as an opportunity to express its support or opposition for the president. Midterm elections reflect people’s opinions concerning whether the country is heading in the right direction, their optimism over the state of the economy, their happiness with whether the country is at peace or at war, and their opinions of the president’s overall performance. The reasons for the Democratic Party’s 2006 takeover included the decline of the public image of George W. Bush, dissatisfaction with the handling of both Hurricane Katrina and the War in Iraq, Bush’s legislative defeat regarding Social Security Reform, and the “culture of corruption” as the result of a series of scandals involving Republican politicians in 2006.
When Quinnipiac pollsters asked voters in January 2014 what should be the “the top priority for President Obama and Congress in 2014,” 18% listed healthcare, 16% listed jobs or unemployment, and 15% said the economy. These “bread and butter” issues have traditionally been the Democrats’ strength. However, according to Quinnipiac Polling Institute Assistant Director Tim Mallory, “It’s the economy, Mr. President, say dissatisfied American voters who are not yet willing to give President Barack Obama a thumbs up on his presidency.” The media may blame Republican intransigence and a do-nothing-Congress for frustrating President Obama’s agenda, but just 4% of voters listed bi-partisanship or cooperation as a top priority.
The president’s party has always lost seats in the House of Representatives in midterm elections, with the only exceptions since 1900 being 1934 and 1998. Those losses are larger in a president’s second term because voters get increasingly “tired” of the same leader as time goes on. The only recent exception was Bill Clinton, whose party lost its majority in a 1994 Republican landslide gain of 52 seats. The Republicans over-played their popularity with voters when they impeached the President but failed to get enough Senate votes to throw him out of office.
The midterm losses by the president’s party are usually explained by the “surge and decline” thesis: higher turnout for the president’s party in presidential elections leads to lower enthusiasm and much lower turnout in the off-years. After six years, the president’s support fades after he has to make political decisions that alienate groups of voters. Since the 1930s, the average loss for the president’s party has been six seats in the Senate and 35 seats in the House.
President Bush’s party was pummeled in the 2006 mid-term over faulty intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq and for his poor response to Hurricane Katrina. President Obama and his party’s poll numbers were hammered in 2013 for the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare, revelations about sweeping domestic government surveillance, and his efforts to pass divisive legislation for both gun control and immigration in the same year.
Obama has set his party up for even more severe voter retaliation in 2014. By limiting the 2013 initial roll-out of Obamacare to just eleven million people, he has doomed 270 million Americans to suffer anxiety about the impacts of the wildly unpopular program during an election year. This may explain why the January 22nd Gallup Poll reveals that an all-time high of 65% of Americans are dissatisfied with the U.S. system of government and its effectiveness, versus 41% for President Bush in 2006, whom the press referred to at the time as a “very unpopular president.”
If the Republicans only achieve the average gain of an opposing party in the 6th year of a president’s term, they will pick-up six seats for control the Senate and push their majority in the House of Representatives to 68 seats. However, with President Obama’s approval rating at the same level as President Bush’s but with voter dissatisfaction with government 24% higher, Democrats appear to be facing an epic election disaster.