Keep On Keepin’ On

Last week President Barack Obama spoke with what Politico reporter, Ben Smith, called "unusual demographic frankness" in saying that the Democratic Party must reconnect with and appeal to "young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women who powered our victory in 2008 to stand together once again" in the 2010 midterm elections. While these comments have predictably led some conservative columnists to accuse Obama of "race baiting," all the president is really saying is that he and his Democratic allies in Congress must continue to act in a way that redeems the promises they made to their core supporters in the 2006 and 2008 elections. That strategy will produce both good public policy and positive electoral results.

It is also an approach that NDN and this blog have been recommending since the beginning of the Obama presidency. It took a while for the lesson to take hold, but once it did the polling results have been increasingly positive for the president and his party.

As the following table drawn from recent ABC News/Washington Post surveys indicates, since the passage of health care reform legislation President Obama's overall job performance score and his approval rating in specific policy areas have increased from their early February lows.


February 8

April 25

Approve Obama job overall



Approve Obama's handling of economy



Approve Obama's handling of health care



Approve of Obama's handling of situation in Afghanistan



*Question not asked in February 8 survey. Data from January 15 survey.

The ABC News/Washington Post survey report correctly points out that "politics are comparative, and he [Obama] continues to outpoint the GOP head-to-head" by significant margins on all policy areas examined in the survey, including one item of presumed Republican strength-the federal budget deficit. Most encouraging, over the past three months, President Obama's advantage over the Congressional GOP has widened across all policy areas.

Trust more to handle

(April 25 Survey)


Republicans in Congress

 Current Obama margin over Congressional Republicans

Obama margin over Congressional GOP in Feb. 8 survey

The economy





Health care










Not asked in Feb. survey

The federal budget deficit





The president's fellow Democrats have shared in his recent polling bounce. When the ABC News/Washington Post interviewers asked their respondents which of the two parties they trust to do a better job of coping with the main problems America faces over the next few years, the Democrats led the Republicans by 14-percentage points (46% vs. 32%). The Democratic advantage grew from only six points in February (when it was 43% vs. 37%).

Most important, the Democrats retook the lead from the GOP on the congressional generic ballot. In February, the Democrats trailed the Republicans by three points (45% vs. 48%). Now , the Democrats are in front of the GOP by five points (48% vs. 43%). This represents an overall shift of eight points toward the Democratic Party since the enactment of health care reform in March, indicating that good policy makes good politics.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll is not the only one showing generic ballot movement toward the Democrats. During the course of April on Gallup's weekly tracking survey a four-point Republican advantage fell slightly to three points at midmonth. At month's end, the two parties were tied at 45-percent each. While the Democrats did not lead on the Gallup generic ballot, by the end of April they were at least competitive.

The Democrats also gained ground on the generic ballot in the Rasmussen Reports, by far the most Republican-leaning of all the public surveys. Even though the Rasmussen survey showed the Democrats still trailing the GOP by six-percentage points that was the smallest Democratic deficit of 2010. It was down from a ten point spread in mid-March, only a week before healthcare reform legislation was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.

The importance of enacting health care reform in rallying the Democratic base and enhancing the party's electoral prospects cannot be overemphasized. A Pew survey conducted just as health care reform passed the House found that a majority of Americans (56%) were frustrated with the federal government. About equal numbers were either basically content (19%) or angry (21%). A month later, the number that were frustrated dropped by four points (to 52%). The level of satisfaction  rose by a similar amount (to 23%). In spite of media attention to Tea Party "rage" about the passage of health care reform, the number claiming to be angry about the federal government actually remained constant and now even marginally trailed those saying they were satisfied or contented with the performance of government.

Not surprisingly, most of the increase in positive attitudes came from Democratic identifiers (satisfaction  up from 27% to 36%) and members of key groups within the Democratic voter coalition such as Millennials (18-29 year olds), a plurality of whom (43%, up from 28%) now said they were satisfied or contented with the federal government.

The next item on the Democratic policy agenda is financial reform legislation. As events in the U.S. Senate this week indicate, that is something even the Republican congressional leadership knows it cannot resist for very long. In a clear  sign that the Great Recession has fundamentally altered the country's attitude toward Wall Street and minimally regulated  markets, a solid  majority of Americans (61%) told Pew survey researchers they believe it is a good idea for the government to more strictly regulate how financial companies do business. While Democratic identifiers and leaners spearhead the demand for stronger financial reform, support for it crosses partisan and demographic lines.

The one thing Washington Democrats should not do is to heed the calls of Democrats from an earlier era or Republican "friends" like Frank Luntz and retreat from their activism of recent months.  A March Pew survey demonstrates that most Americans and, especially, most Democrats would reject this approach.  In that poll, led by Democratic identifiers, a majority (50%) believes that federal government programs should be maintained to deal with important problems. In the same survey a majority (50%) also say that the biggest problem with government is its inefficiencies rather than its priorities (37%). If President Obama and Congressional Democrats take counsel from anyone, they would be well advised to adhere to the admonition of the rockers of four decades ago and "keep on keepin' on."