President Obama will be delivering his State of the Union address tonight to an increasingly conservative electorate. A new poll of 1,000 likely voters, done by John McLaughlin and Associates for the National Review Institute, finds voters skeptical of big government, hostile to the health-care legislation being considered on Capitol Hill, and interested in conservative alternatives.
The poll finds that 50 percent of voters approve of Obama’s job performance and 46 percent disapprove — but there the good news for Democrats ends. Republicans lead Democrats by five points on the generic congressional ballot, and are behind by only four among Hispanics.
On ideological questions this electorate leans right. Self-identified liberals have more confidence that government spending and intervention will improve the economy than that free enterprise and individual initiative will. The electorate disagrees, 65 to 25 percent. Self-identified liberals worry more about big business than big government; again the electorate disagrees, 57 to 25 percent. Likely voters do not believe that this administration knows how business works or how to help it succeed by 53 to 42 percent; independents and people who own small businesses were even more skeptical. Seventy-nine percent of voters agree that Congress has lost sight of its constitutional limits; 53 percent of them “strongly” agree.
The health-care polling spells disaster from start to finish for liberals. Likely 2010 voters believe that the health-care legislation being considered will make health care worse rather than better (56 to 29 percent) and that it will increase costs rather than lower them (62 to 24 percent). These worries are not confined to typically Republican demographic groups. A majority of Hispanics thinks that the bill will make health care worse, as do 56 percent of those who are undecided about their congressional vote and 27 percent of those who approve of Obama’s job performance. Eighty-one percent of voters say they are concerned about the bill’s effect on the deficit, with 54 percent characterizing themselves as “very” concerned.
Likely voters were asked whether Congress should consider the current bill or an alternative that took “a few more modest steps” such as “allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines to improve competition, creating a risk pool to help people with pre-existing conditions afford coverage, and curbing lawsuits against doctors.” Given these alternatives, 61 percent favored them and only 21 percent the current bill.
This conservative health-care reform attracts bipartisan support. Democrats favor the alternative over the current bill by 47 to 34 percent, liberals by 44 to 39 percent, and Obama approvers by 46 to 33 percent. Independents favor it by 61 to 21 percent.
The poll holds out little hope that an anti–Wall Street “populist” turn by the Democrats will help them. Likely voters were asked which statement came closest to their own opinion, that “we should impose a new tax on banks because they have benefited so much from bailouts and need to be reined in” or that “bank customers would end up paying the tax and the economy would suffer.” The pro-bank-tax line got 38 percent agreement while the anti-bank-tax line got 52 percent. Independents broke 50 to 33 percent against the bank tax. Perhaps surprisingly, union households, which are supposed to be a stronghold for this sort of populism, were almost exactly in line with the electorate as a whole in opposition. In this poll, the popular form of populism is conservative: 88 percent of voters want to make it easier to fire government workers for substandard performance.
This conservatism has its limits: Voters are still averse to cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare. Voters also believe that the deficit makes tax cuts unaffordable, although particular tax-cut proposals often draw high support, and voters strongly oppose tax increases.
The likely voters of 2010 are not in the market for business bashing, for big government, or for Obamacare, and they favor conservative policies to address their concerns. They do not hate the president — again, more of them approve of his job performance than disapprove of it — but they are not interested in what he is selling.
– Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor at National Review and a member of the board of the National Review Institute.