Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Obama's State Job Approval Collapse, And What It Could Mean For 2014

Photo found here.

November 2013 is likely to be remembered as the worst month of Barack Obama's presidency, that is, if he's lucky enough to stop the bleeding over the course of the next few weeks. Republicans, fresh off of what was perceived at the time as a historic misstep in shutting down the federal government to defund the Affordable Care Act, were handed a life-line with the disastrous rollout, followed by nationwide cancellations of millions of people's health insurance.

What came next was predictable. The President's numbers remained steadily negative up until late last month, when they turned steeply southward.

The last non-daily tracking poll to find the President in single-digit negative territory was a GWU/Battleground poll from one month ago. No less than 6 separate surveys taken this month have shown his approval rating in the 30% range. And a recent CBS/NYT poll gave Obama the worst job approval rating of his presidency, in *any* poll.

Making things more difficult for the White House, a flurry of state polls indicate negative impressions of the President's job performance have filtered down to the states.

Consider the chart below of every state-based survey to test Obama's job rating since November 1, 2013 (approximately the period at which Obama's *national* ratings began to drop):

With relatively few exceptions, the President's numbers are quite poor, especially when compared to his performance against Mitt Romney in last year's general election. And when considering JUST the numbers taken over about the last two weeks, the picture gets even more grim, especially with respect to five swing-states with high profile Senate or Gubernatorial races in 2014: Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio.

What does a term-limited President's job approval rating have to do with Democrat's chances in 2014? Sean Trend of Real Clear Politics recently concluded that, at least from an aggregate, national perspective, it matters a lot. But what kind of correlation, if any, is there between a President's state-based job approval rating, and that particular state's Senate or Gubernatorial midterm result? On the more micro level, the relationship between presidential approval and his or her party's midterm result gets murkier.

Drawing from the five swing-states in which Obama's approval rating appears to have collapsed, consider the charts below of midterm Presidential job approval vs. Senate and/or Gubernatorial election results:

Presidential job approval numbers are provided by election day exit polling when available. *No Exit Poll data available. Bush job approval provided by an Oct 30-Nov 1, 2006 SurveyUSA poll of Colorado Likely Voters. ** Bush job approval provided by an Oct 30-Nov 2, 2002 CNN/USA Today/Gallup  Poll of Colorado Likely Voters. The Republican percentage of the vote for the 2010 Governor's race combines Maes (R) and Tancredo's votes.

*No Exit Poll data available. Bush job approval provided by an Oct 19-19, 2006 Rasmussen Reports survey of Iowa likely voters

No Exit Poll data available. Bush job approval provided by an Oct 29-31, 2010 PPP survey and an Oct 15-17, 2010 Ras Rpts poll
With regard to the last two midterm elections (2010 and 2006), as well as the 1994 midterm, the relationship between state-based presidential job approval and senate or gubernatorial results is fairly clear. An unpopular President frequently led to victories for the opposing party in most cases in the five swing-states examined. Colorado in 2010 and 1994 are two of the few exceptions to this pattern (although note, President Obama was in a much better position in the state on election day 2010 than he was nationwide. And in 1994, a popular incumbent Governor named Roy Romer was re-elected to his third term as Governor against weak Republican opposition, despite poor job approval numbers for President Clinton. See the chart above).

But outside of the 2010, 2006, and 1994 midterm elections, all of which were identified by most political scientists as "wave" elections, the correlation between midterm results and presidential job approval becomes harder to spot.  For example, consider North Carolina in 1986. In a competitive contest that pitted Democrat Terry Sanford against incumbent Republican Roy Broyhill, the Democrat emerged the victor (52-48%), despite President Ronald Reagan's impressive 64/36% NC election-day job approval rating. Or glance at Ohio in 1998, when a popular President Clinton still couldn't stop impressive Republican victories in both the Governor AND Senate race. Or take Colorado in 1986, where a wildly popular Reagan failed to prevent Democratic wins in the Senate and Governor's race. The examples don't stop there.

In sum, yes, there is ample evidence to suggest that a President's midterm job approval rating in a particular state bares some relation to that state's senate and/or gubernatorial results, especially with regards to 'wave' election years. But Democrats can take solace in some notable exceptions to this rule. Either way, recent state polling leaves little doubt that Obama is currently in a worse position than he was on election day 2010 - and things weren't pretty for him then.

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