Why Barack Obama’s Approval Ratings Are Tanking
August 20, 2010 8 Comments
ATLANTA— Two weeks ago, Jay Cost wrote another characteristically brilliant post on the HorceRace Blog at RealClearPolitics.com about what is happening to Barack Obama’s approval ratings this year. I highly recommend that you read it by clicking here. The basic crux of his argument is that Barack Obama appeared to capture an historic, landslide victory in the 2008 election and so therefore many people expected that he had a significant political mandate to fundamently redirect America. However, the breadth of his victory was not nearly as significant as the depth of his victory in certain key population centers of our country. Accordingly, he lacked the broad will of the American people and correspondingly, a majority of people are now rejecting his legislative victories and rejecting him as a president.
I found the piece fascinating, particularly the chart above. Here is an excerpt from the article, explaining the chart and its significance in understanding Barack Obama’s polling numbers:
…consider the following picture. It compares Obama’s election in 2008 (by county) to previous landslides – Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, Eisenhower in 1952, Johnson in 1964, and Reagan in 1980. These maps come from an excellent French cartographer named Frédéric Salmon… They follow a different color scheme than the red-blue divide we are used to. In the following maps, Republican counties are in blue – and they become darker blue as the county votes more heavily Republican. Meanwhile, Democratic counties are in yellow – and they move to brown as the county votes more heavily Democratic.
As should be clear, Obama’s victory was geographically narrower than Reagan’s, LBJ’s, Ike’s or FDR’s. Substantially so. Obama did much more poorly in rural and small town locales. They have a history of progressive/liberal support, but Obama was unable to place himself in the rural progressive tradition of William Jennings Bryan. This makes his coalition the most one-sided of any on the above maps. Most of his political support comes from the big cities and the inner suburbs. The exurbs, small towns, and rural areas generally voted Republican (with notable exceptions in the Upper Midwest).
In fact, if you look at presidential elections going back 100 years, Obama’s is the most geographically narrow of any victors except Carter, Kennedy, and Truman – none of whom had transformative presidencies. Even Bill Clinton in 1996, whose share of the two-party vote was comparable to Obama’s, still had a geographically broader voting coalition. Ditto George H.W. Bush in 1988.
Voting input inevitably determines policy output, and these maps hold the key to Reich’s disappointment with the President. In our system, it’s not just the number of votes that matter, but – thanks to Roger Sherman – how they are distributed across the several states. Obama’s urban support base was sufficient for political success in the House, which passed a very liberal health care bill last November. But rural places have greater sway in the Senate – and Obama’s weakness in rural America made for a half-dozen skittish Democrats who represent strong McCain states. The evolving thinking on the left – “Obama should have used his campaign-trail magic to change the political dynamic” – is thus totally misguided. The “remarkable capacities he displayed during the 2008 campaign” never persuaded the constituents of the red state Democrats he had to win over. Why should they suddenly start doing so now?
The most interesting thing to me about the above picture is that if you were to have the color-coding explained to you without knowing who actually won the election, you would think 2008 was a landslide for the Republican. To me, this chart confirms why I still favor the electoral college, even though it did not come through for us in 2008. It is clear you can win the popular vote exclusively by carrying the major population centers. Winning the electoral college requires you to campaign in Iowa. But this chart also clarifies why Barack Obama’s approval ratings are tanking.