Today’s new Pew poll has him steady at +6, but feast on your eyes on RCP’s poll tracker. Poll averages are almost always more accurate than individual polls and right now RCP has him at -3.3 and apparently sinking. (This morning Rasmussen had him at -7.) Here’s what it looks like over the past month. The black line is approval, red is disapproval:
I’m not sure what explains that temporary spike in disapproval in the middle. The IRS scandal broke on May 10th and the first of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, the leak of the FISA order targeting Verizon, was published on June 5. The ballooning disapproval at the end of May might simply have been the cumulative effect of Scandalmania catching up to him, compounded by the news about the DOJ snooping on James Rosen (which came out on May 20th). But then that raises the question of why O’s disapproval just as suddenly dipped and returned to normal-ish. I’m not sure. Maybe all we’re looking at here is the product of a few outlier polls at the end of the month.
Anyway, we’re concerned with the current disapproval spike, which has already lasted longer than the one at the end of the May. What’s driving it? It has to be the NSA stuff, right? The IRS scandal has slipped off the front page, and in any case, that was never a true “bipartisan” furor. Most Democrats will acknowledge that it’s wrong and shouldn’t have happened, but rarely do partisans on either side feel abiding outrage over an offense to partisans on the other. Beyond that, no one’s tied O himself directly to the scandal. Accusations against him usually boil down to him having “set the tone” by demagoging tea partiers occasionally, but it’s hard to build Democratic outrage over that given that many of them hate tea partiers too. The NSA revelations are different because there’s no obvious partisan angle to it and because the buck does indeed stop with The One. We know from the polling that many Dems will go straight into the tank to defend him on massive data-mining, but not all will. In particular, the Hopenchange generation of young voters may be disappointed:
In May, President Obama enjoyed a 53/44 approval rating. But the latest CNN poll shows that the numbers have nearly reversed, now standing at 45/54. The most interesting aspect of this poll is the significant drop in support from Americans between the ages of 18 and 34, a voting bloc that helped propel President Obama to the White House in 2008 and to re-election last year.
In May, President Obama held a 63/34 approval rating among this age group. But in June, that his approval rating with young voters was underwater, at 48/50. That’s a 15-point drop.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) attributed the drop in support among young voters to the recent NSA scandal and explained that it gives Republicans an opportunity for outreach.
That’s just one poll, and smaller samples of particular age groups necessarily have larger margins of error, but there’s other recent data floating around out there that suggests there’s something to it. O talked a good game on civil liberties in 2008 and now some of the younger idealists who appreciated him for it are disillusioned. Plus, for all the talk lately about how Snowden’s hurt his cause by wittingly or unwittingly making the NSA story partially a story about him, it may be that younger Americans identify with him to some extent. He’s under 30, tech-savvy, idealistic, and took a gigantic risk in exposing the NSA documents. The story of the past two weeks is, in part, a story about whether Barack Obama or Edward Snowden has more credibility on government surveillance. The verdict among young voters may not be what The One wants.
The big question: Does any of this matter? Sean Trende points me to this post yesterday by John Sides arguing that yes, of course the president’s job approval matters. It always matters. It matters in 2014 — if it stays low — because Democrats will need a popular president to help them turn out their base. It matters in 2016 — if it stays low — because it’ll be easier for the Democratic nominee to run on the record of a popular president than to run against the record of an unpopular one. And of course it matters right now because a popular president has more leverage in getting what he wants from Congress. Good points all, but as for 2016, Hillary is a sui generis figure on the American political landscape. I’m not sure Obama’s popularity at that point will matter as much to her as it would to any other Democrat. Bill Clinton’s pretty popular, isn’t he? Think his name will be invoked by Team Hillary on the trail? As for O’s popularity right now, he used to be much more popular and Republicans in Congress didn’t care a whit about it. The stimulus passed in 2009 when he was at the height of his Hopenchange influence and he managed to nail down three GOP votes in the Senate. Even if his numbers rebounded “strongly,” he’s probably looking at 55/45 at best. Which Republican votes are flipping to do O’s bidding against that backdrop, with conservative grassroots voters gearing up for the midterms? You might argue that this is more about losing Democrats than winning Republicans, but Dems are firmly behind his big legislative initiatives like immigration reform and background checks. They have an incentive to vote for those because they poll well individually, irrespective of Obama’s job approval rating.
The one convincing point is that an unpopular O could hurt his party next year. True, but … he’s on the verge of a big legislative victory now, isn’t he? Our Republican friends in the Senate are weeks away from giving him 70+ votes for the Gang of Eight’s crappy amnesty bill. If you think the GOP rather than the Democrats will get the lion’s share of credit if it passes Congress, you’re kidding yourself as deeply as the Republican leadership is. Assume that it passes, and further assume that the president who signs it into law (and who’s quietly helping to shepherd it through Congress behind the scenes) gets applause for having helped make it happen. Immigration reform is popular, so it’s safe to assume that O’s approval rating will get a boost from passage. Toss that on the pile with all the other reasons to vote for the Gang of Eight bill — it helps Obama politically at a moment when he’s in a bit of a jam. Fantastic.