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Poll Numbers Painting Worrisom Pic for DNC
By Jay Cost
August 25, 2009
Obama's Worst Poll Number
Gallup's breakdown of Obama's job approval by age was illuminating.
First off, note Obama's drop-off among young people. Young people were supposed to be a critical component of the new Democratic majority. Granted their approval is still slightly higher than the other groups, but it has far and away been the most volatile, dropping more than any other. This should not come as a huge surprise. Baby Boomers were partial to McGovern in 1972, but swung around to Reagan in the 80s. Young people's political dispositions are still being formed.
Yet, Obama's worst poll number here is actually his share among seniors. I'm guessing it relates to the health care debate. The White House should be very concerned, and for one simple reason: seniors vote.
Here are some empirics on that claim. I looked at states that featured hotly contested midterm Senate elections in 2006. I counted ten: Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia. For each of these, I pulled out the share of the electorate that was 65 and over for President in 2008, Senate in 2006, and President in 2004.
First off, there was not a noticeable drop-off among senior voters from 2004 to 2008. Only Ohio shows a significant change, and it has an increase. About half have a slight increase and half have a slight decrease. That's consistent with national polls, which have seniors contributing 16% of the total electorate in 2004 and 2008.
Second, notice 2006. In seven of the ten states, seniors accounted for a larger share of the electorate during the midterm. In several of them, the differences were substantial. At least in the hotly contested Senate elections, the 2006 electorate was noticeably older. This corresponds with national data as well. The national House exit poll in 2006 found 19% of the electorate was 65 or older, compared to 16% in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections.
One reason for this might be that there is a lot of stimulation to vote in a presidential election - especially the last two matchups, which were hotly contested - but that stimulation drops off for the midterms. Thus, you're left with an electorate voting more out of habit, rather than being drawn to participate by the excitement of the spectacle. That could give seniors an advantage.
If Obama's numbers with seniors stay in the cellar, this could mean midterm problems next year for the Democrats. The silver lining here for the White House is that most of the drop-off occurred recently, which suggests that Obama might be able to win at least some of these people back. If he can improve his overall standing on the health care issue, he'll probably pick up with seniors.