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Elections highlight Obama's eroding base

Associated Press | 11/16/2010, 6:23 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Near the midpoint of his presidency, Barack Obama’s diverse voter coalition reveals giant cracks and he faces major work repairing his standing among independents in states crucial to his re-election chances.

Catholics. Older people. Women. Young adults. They shifted toward Republicans in this month’s elections and failed to support Obama’s Democratic Party as they did in 2008.

Two years before voters render judgment on his tenure, Obama’s most critical task may be winning back those who aren’t affiliated with a party but who hold enormous sway in close contests. National exit polls from the midterm elections show these voters broke heavily for Republicans after helping elect Obama and Democrats in the two previous elections.

The trouble with this constituency appears even deeper for Obama in places expected to be closely contested in the next White House race, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of exit polls in 26 states. It shows just how much ground Obama must make up with independents between now and November 2012.

“Over the last two years, we’ve made progress. But clearly too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet,” he said after the election. “As president, I take responsibility for that.”

It’s impossible to predict a presidential election based on midterm results. That’s even truer considering that 131.2 million people voted in 2008, when Obama was elected, compared with 87 million this month, based on an AP tally of official and unofficial results. The slow-moving economic recovery could speed up, lifting Obama and the Democrats.

November’s exit-poll responses provide enough hints that Obama could be in serious trouble if he doesn’t shore up his support in crucial areas.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I’m frustrated and I blamed him for some of the bad shape this country’s in. We’re struggling,” said Earlene Durham, 32, of St. Louis, sounding like other independents who backed Obama in 2008. “But then I thought, ‘Well, he’s trying the best he can.’ The only thing we can do is wait and see what he does in the next two years. Gotta give the man a chance.”

Exit-poll questionnaires vary state to state, but on several issues that dominated the campaign this year, cross-state analyses are possible.

His job performance rating was more negative than positive among voters in states such as Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Obama won them all in 2008. In Indiana, where Obama was the first Democrat to win the state since 1964, just 37 percent approved.

Among independents: — More said their vote in a Senate race was to express opposition to Obama rather than to show support. This was true in every state where exit polls asked the question, and by margins of 2-to-1 or better in states such as Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

— Majorities disapprove of Obama in all states but California, Delaware, Hawaii and Vermont, which traditionally lean Democratic during a presidential election. Obama’s job performance rating is lowest in West Virginia, where 76 percent disapprove. In Indiana, 69 percent of independents disapprove, and in perennially contested Ohio, 65 percent disapprove.