Midterm elections usually end up as referendums on the current President, and sixth-year midterms especially so. Will that be the case in November with Barack Obama? According to a new poll from Marist and McClatchy, yes — and Democrats will not like the outcome. By a ten-point spread, Obama incentivizes voters to go Republican more than Democratic:
President Barack Obama is dragging down his party and hurting the prospects of fellow Democrats as they head into midterm elections that will determine who controls Congress, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
Obama is beset by problems at home and abroad. Just 40 percent of voters approve of the way he’s doing his job, tying his worst mark in three years and the second worst of his presidency.
Just 39 percent approve of the way he’s dealing with the economy and only 33 percent approve of how he’s dealing with foreign policy, the worst of his years in office.
By 42-32 percent, voters say their opinions of Obama make them more likely to vote this fall for a Republican than for a Democrat.
That’s actually twice the gap in the generic Congressional ballot, which stacks up 43/38 for Republicans — a very bad figure for Democrats. The GOP has gained 11 points in the gap since April, when Democrats led 48/42, which strongly suggests that the momentum has shifted in a big way as the general-election campaign season approaches. What’s more, it’s also pretty clear that no matter how poorly the GOP polls (only 22% approve of Republicans in Congress, as opposed to 32% for Democrats), the need to rebuke Barack Obama takes precedence for voters. Among independents, the GOP has a 14-point lead in the generic Congressional ballot, 40/26, and Obama makes independents likelier to vote for Republicans than Democrats by an almost 2:1 margin, 41/22.
So yes, this midterm will be all about Barack Obama, and not about income inequality or free contraception. Having an overall job approval rating of 40/52 is bad enough (worst since September 2011), but on issues that matter to voters, Obama may be doing worse than that topline figure suggests. His 39/58 on the economy is his worst showing since July 2013, and his 33/61 on foreign policy is Obama’s worst ever in the Marist series. He gets only a 30/55 on the Gaza war, and 32/51 on Ukraine. Even his personal favorability has plummeted; it’s now at 43/51, his worst showing in this series as well.
It’s a disaster for Democrats, and it doesn’t appear that it will get better any time soon. Obama might have mitigated the damage with a renewed sense of mission and engagement in the face of multiple crises, but instead he opted to go on vacation. Normally I’d push back against those who gripe about presidential vacations, but as I argue in my column today at The Week, this time critics have a point:
Three years ago, he proudly declared that he had kept his promise to get all troops out of the country, and two years ago campaigned on the fact that Mitt Romney would have kept U.S. troops there had he been president. In January of this year, Obama infamously dismissed ISIS as “a jayvee team” to al Qaeda, and shrugged them off as “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes.”
Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told an audience that the U.S. is less safe than it was “several years ago,” and that rather than being on the run, the al Qaeda ideology “sadly feels like it’s exponentially grown” during that time.
On Saturday, with Marine One in the background, standing by to whisk him away to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama announced that he had ordered the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS to prevent a potential genocide. He then proceeded to claim that removing all troops from Iraq wasn’t his decision, but was a situation forced on him by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Needless to say, the dramatic cognitive disconnects in Obama’s narrative don’t do much to maintain even the current low confidence in his leadership, let alone repair the damage. While Obama can certainly run the American response from his vacation retreat to the genocide unfolding in real time, his insistence on doing so reinforces the conclusion that the president isn’t taking the ISIS threat seriously.
Most Americans would expect that the sudden epiphany about the genocidal threat posed by ISIS would have a president working overtime. This time, at least, the need to boost confidence in the president’s leadership should have outweighed his legitimate need for some downtime outside the Beltway bubble.
Americans are less and less impressed with Obama, and going absent in August isn’t likely to make them feel any better about him as Commander in Chief, either.