The Democrats’ Obama problem


President Obama speaks during a town hall meeting focusing on the importance of the My Brothers Keeper Initiative at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington on Monday. (Jewel Samad/Getty Images)

President Obama is unpopular. In the 12 states that will decide control of the Senate this November, though, he's even more unpopular.

A new poll from Democratic pollster Democracy Corps shows 60 percent of people in these states say they disapprove of Obama, compared to just 37 percent who approve. Perhaps more striking: 50 percent of voters in these states say they not only disapprove of Obama, but they "strongly" disapprove of him.

The fact that Obama's numbers are worse in these states, of course, is to be expected. After all, the 2014 race is mostly being decided in red states, and Mitt Romney won these 12 states by an average of 8.5 points. Obama was bound to be less popular here.

But it's also worth considering just how much resistance there is to Obama among the voters who will actually matter in November.


Courtesy: Democracy Corps

To the extent the 2014 election is about Obama and his job performance -- as midterm elections are generally theorized to be -- half of voters in key states will head to the polls on Nov. 4 with a pretty bad taste in their mouths.

The 2014 campaign has already featured a steady stream of Republicans attempting to tie Democrats to Obama in these states. So far, we've seen Democrats try all manner of things to distance themselves. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) told the Post that he wants another term in Washington so that he can be a "thorn in [Obama's posterior]," and candidates including Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Natalie Tennant in West Virginia have distanced themselves from the Obama Administration's coal policies. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) are also expressing their independence in various ways in strongly anti-Obama states.

For these five Democrats and the seven others who will determine whether their party will keep the Senate (the GOP needs to gain six seats), about half the electorate they face will be upset enough with Obama that they "strongly" disapprove of him, according to this poll.

At the same time, many of these Democrats are hanging tough despite very unfavorable electorates. Begich, Grimes, Landrieu and Pryor, in particular, are all running well ahead of Obama's approval numbers in their states -- so much so that their races look like toss-ups. That' s a very good sign for Democrats.

The real question is whether they can do it by enough. These Democrats don't just need to win voters who disapprove of Obama; many of them will apparently have to win voters who "strongly" disapprove of Obama. More than half of voters in the most competitive states, according to the poll, are in the strongly anti-Obama camp.

Could those strongly anti-Obama voters cross over and vote for the right kind of Democrat? It could and probably will happen, to some extent. But this poll makes pretty clear Democrats pretty much need it to.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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Aaron Blake · July 22, 2014