Politics & Policy

The President Who No Longer Feels Your Pain

Obama has squandered his biggest advantage among key voting groups.

President Obama “gets an ‘A’ for effort” and is “trying to fix things.” He is “approachable” and “caring.”

I heard some combination of these sentiments — positive intentions and likability — repeatedly from Obama-leaning independent voters in more than 70 hours of focus groups last year. It became more predictable than the annual disappointment of a Washington sports fan.

The president held a reservoir of goodwill with swing voters throughout the 2012 campaign. Ultimately, they gave him the benefit of the doubt, despite their pessimism about the direction of the country, the sluggish national economy, and their postponed dreams of upward mobility.

The president understands our daily plight, they thought — at least more so than the alternative. The decision before them last November was like choosing a doctor based upon empathy and beside manner rather than medical training.

That’s why exit polls showed Governor Romney topping President Obama on the economy, leadership, shared values, and offering a vision for the country, but the president still won by more than 5 million votes.

To his credit, the president persuaded many voters that he cares more about people like them, and he won the votes of this group by 4 to 1.

So Obama began his second term with an empathetic bully pulpit and a trusted coalition of young people, suburban women, working-class families, and minorities willing to listen. This is one reason why the president held the political edge during the government shutdown.

Now the tempest that is Obamacare, which permanently tarnished the president’s post-partisan image during its passage, is back in the national spotlight and sinking the president to new lows in the polls.

The president’s job approval dropped to 37 percent in the latest CBS News poll, and with his unfavorable rating on the rise, Obama is no longer buoyed by personal likability. After holding mostly static for the past three years, approval of the health-care law has fallen below 40 percent in recent public polls.

More troubling for Democrats, President Obama’s “caring” surplus has evaporated, according to Quinnipiac University polling. Voters now split on whether President Obama cares about their needs, 49 to 48 percent, a net 11-point drop from his standing in early October.

This decline is due to a shift among independents, going from a positive 49 to 45 percent on the eve of the government shutdown to a negative 42 to 55 percent in the wake of Obamacare’s disastrous unveiling.

Furthermore, there’s evidence that this negative public opinion is growing deep roots, as millions of working-class families and individuals anxiously follow news of canceled health plans, changes in doctor networks, and premium sticker shock.

For the first time in a Washington Post survey, a majority of voters (51 to 46 percent) believe President Obama no longer understands their problems, a net 14-point drop since his second term began.

Fewer than half of women believe the president understands their problems today, a net 25-point free fall since January. Those under 40 years old split 48 to 49 percent. Gone is the solid advantage they gave the president in January of 63 to 34 percent.

Households with incomes less than $50,000 dropped from a positive 58 to 40 percent to a negative 48 to 51 percent on this measure. White Catholics are among the president’s toughest critics, going from a positive 54 to 45 percent to a negative 40 to 59 percent.

Not only are voters more likely to perceive President Obama as indifferent to their problems, they’re losing confidence in the president who pledged that his reform would not adversely affect those who like their current health-care coverage.

A majority of voters in both Quinnipiac and Washington Post polling say President Obama is no longer honest and trustworthy, 52 to 44 percent and 52 to 46 percent, respectively.

These findings reflect a net swing of greater than 20 points away from the president since October and the subsequent shattering of his oft-repeated promise, “If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period.”

Of course, polls are snapshots in time. Yet it seems with each new survey, President Obama’s negative trajectory is reinforced.

The problem for Democrats is that they head into a six-year-itch election with full ownership of Obamacare, following a president who is entrenched in a defensive political posture — a president who many voters believe no longer feels their pain.

— Luke Frans is executive director of Resurgent Republic, a center-right research organization.


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