Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Nov 04, 2009 at 12:00:41 PM EST
Gallup has produced a useful graph listing Presidential approval and midterm election results over the past 60 or so years that's worth taking a gander at.
The numbers that stand out to me the most are those of President Eisenhower. Unlike the other Presidents on the lists, whose parties' fortunes rose or fell with their approval ratings (with the exception of Gerald Ford, who was President for just a few short months before the 1974 midterms), Eisenhower sported fairly strong approval ratings going into both the 1954 and 1958 midterm elections -- elections in which his Republican Party 18 seats in the House (and control of the chamber) and 47 seats in the House (and relevance in the chamber), respectively. Eisenhower, in other words, had no coattails when he wasn't on the ballot. (His coattails while on the ballot were somewhat suspect as well; while he was able to lead his party to a meager majority during his landslide victory in the 1952 Presidential election, he was unable to do the same four years later despite winning reelection by more than 15 percentage points.)
We do not yet know what Barack Obama's approval numbers will look like in one year, and for now they are not nearly as good as those held by Eisenhower. But we do know what the President's approval rating was in three of last night's races.
- In New York City, more than three-in-four voters (77 percent) approved of the job Barack Obama is doing as President. There the Democrat lost by about 4 percentage points.
- In New Jersey, a strong majority of voters backed the President (to the tune of a 57 percent approval rating). There the Democrat also lost by about 4 percentage points.
- In Virginia, Barack Obama's approval rating was lower at 48 percent. There the Democrat lost by a much wider margin of about 17 percentage points.
In two of these races, Barack Obama remained highly popular, and yet the Democratic candidate was unable to win. In the third, the President was not so unpopular to serve as a significant drag on the Democratic nominee, and yet that nominee sank badly.
The onus for last night losses does not necessarily lie with Barack Obama. That said, even if the President is able to earn back support in the coming year leading up to the midterm elections, he will have to do something different if he hopes for such increased popularity to lead to victory in the ballot box. Because as it is now, Barack Obama's standing with the public isn't necessarily rubbing off on his Democratic allies -- allies, particularly in Congress, but also around the country in governor's mansions and state legislatures, who are key to the success of his agenda.
My guess is that Barack Obama doesn't want to be another Dwight D. Eisenhower -- a popular President, yes, but one who wasn't able to sustain a congressional majority and who thus had to deal with an opposition Congress for much of his term in office. His Democratic supporters certainly don't want that to be the case. So it's probably not a bad idea for the White House to be thinking about how to make 2010 (and beyond) turn out differently than did election day 2009.