Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

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.

Tags: Barack Obama, Dwight D. Eisenhower (all tags)



Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

All three races are irrelevant:

Bloomberg had a 70% approval rating, yet he nearly lost.

Corzine had a 37% approval rating, yet he nearly won thanks to Obama driving up his vote numbers.

Deeds publicly and vehemently repudiated the Obama agenda keeping Obama voters home.  

Meanwhile, in NY-23, Owens publicly endorsed the public option and healthcare reform and he won.

The races you chose were lousy bellweathers... you had two HORRID governor candidates who were longshots to begin with, and a Republican mayor who is extremely popular (and, yet, almost lost).

Obama still has strong coattails, but only if candidates are willing to use them.

by LordMike 2009-11-04 12:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

I agree. Now if we could just get the MSM, the Republicans and the diarist to agree.

by spirowasright 2009-11-04 12:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

It bears reminding that Eisenhower came into power to end an unpopular war. Which he did. Unfortunately Obama seems ready to up the ante.

At any rate, the comparison is really this. Eisenhower was the sole Republican President in a Democratic era (1933-1969). We're now, I think or at least hope, at the end of a GOP era (1981-2009). For Obama to be successful, he has to think transformative. He needs to be the start of an era not just another interregnum. So far, it's a mixed bag. A few accomplishments but there has been a marked lack of boldness.

This cool, detached sytle irks me at times. I definitely like him more when he lets the partisan Obama go out for the night.

by Charles Lemos 2009-11-04 12:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

Obama campaigned on an increased commitment to A'stan. The war he was to end was that of Iraq...

by vecky 2009-11-04 12:37PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

Yes I know that. Still the war in Afghanistan is not popular. The circumstances have changed that.

Not sure if you saw but a rogue Afghan policeman today shot and killed 5 British soldiers.

It's a mess. I like the Biden counter-terrorism strategy better. The problem isn't not enough troops, the problem is too many troops already. What's feeding the insurgency is the sense of an occupation.

Moreover, the Karzai govt isn't worth saving.

by Charles Lemos 2009-11-04 12:55PM | 0 recs
the audacity of timidity

He needs to step it up.  I would like to see him divert the unspent TARP money for more stimulus.

Nate Silver made the point that since Rev. Wright became an issue, Obama turned cautious.

The yellow flag won't do it.  It's time get things moving.  The report that HCR wouldn't be finished this year could be devestating for the midterms.  No way he should have let Baucus sit on it all summer.


by esconded 2009-11-04 12:38PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

Approvals in the low to mid 50s and favorables a bit higher than that do not equate to one term unless you are caught in the sack with an intern or they find a dead body in your office.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 12:46PM | 0 recs
Its the economy

That will likely make him a one term President.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the economy

I think that is coming back and I am reading experts think the jobs are not far behind.  

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:04PM | 0 recs
Seriously dude

if the economy isn't much better by 2012, the Presidential election is the least of our worries.

If his entire presidency is based on the economy, he's gonna get reelected.

by ND22 2009-11-04 01:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Its the economy

I thought you were predicting the Democratic party's loss of NY-23.

by Khun David 2009-11-04 01:36PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

You mean when it looked like he would win "he turned cautious".

Obama needed to tack left for the primaries. Hillary OTOH had spent the last 4 years tacking right and it cost her. By the time she went on the attack the math was already on Obamas side. From that point on he only needed not to 'rock the boat'.

by vecky 2009-11-04 12:53PM | 0 recs
by ND22 2009-11-04 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

Barring a collapse in the economy, I think Obama will win a second term. That's not the issue.

The point I think is we need to usher in a long-lived Democratic era so that our reforms have sustainability and there is as Obama put it "an urgency of now." Suddenly he has lost his urgency.

by Charles Lemos 2009-11-04 12:58PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

If he gets health care done this year he will have had one of the more accomplished 1st terms in a long long time.   Is that worth anything?

Leave it to us pragmatic Clinton supporters to be the ones to have to defend Obama from the Obamamaniacs he created.


by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:03PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

1) Obama wasn't my first, second, third, or even fourth choice for President. Edwards, Kuicinch, Biden, Gravel.

2)It's not the amount of accomplishments - there have been plenty of legislative accomplishments but there is a sense that the real issues are being skirted. He saved the banks but failed to really change bank behaivor. It's a mixed bag. Here is a guy who campaigned on this "I don't take money from lobbyists" pledge (even though he did, just through the back door)  and then lets lobbyists write the Baucus bill. Now it's possible that he has some sort of master plan but from afar he seems distant, cool and unconcerned at times. But a Presidency is also more than just legislative accomplishments. He has an opportunity to change values and perceptions.

by Charles Lemos 2009-11-04 01:15PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

Gravel?    Gravel is certifiable.  He is insane.  He should have been allowed near the debates.   Puh-lease.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:45PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

I went to see him thrice. Much different in person that he was on camera. You have to remember that the debates, the second-tier candidates got seconds to make an impression. Gravel let it all hang out.

Still think Gravel is right about a lot, especially about that empire shackled to our ankles dragging us down deeper into debt. He called it welfare for the rich. Hard to argue with that.

I supported Clinton after Edwards dropped out. I wasn't an Obama supporter until he said those three magic words to ironically of all people, Joe the Plumber. "spread the wealth." Music to my ears. And I know Obama means it because it was off the cuff. That's his thinking showing through.

My problem is that he has Geithner and Summers on his staff. Replace with Corzine and Stiglitz.

by Charles Lemos 2009-11-04 02:11PM | 0 recs
Re: the audacity of timidity

That will never happen. You said that last night. President Obama is a true believer in neoliberalism.

by bruh3 2009-11-04 05:17PM | 0 recs
And if he doesnt get healthcare done

He will be one of the biggest failures as President in history.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 08:53PM | 0 recs

you're adorable

by ND22 2009-11-05 12:24AM | 0 recs
Maybe its not worth it. Let the House go.

From everything I am reading lately it is going to be impossible for him to appease his base.   They want it all and they want it now.  Maybe Obama should save he headaches and gray hairs.

Perhaps it is best for him to lose the House early.   Get the liberals off his back and then cut deals Clinton style with the GOP in the House and work with the more moderate Democrats in the Senate, who should have no problem holding on to power for a few cycles to come.  

He can still win two terms and keep high approvals like the Big Dog, liberals can vote for Nader (if he is still alive) in 2016, and Tim Pawlenty can be the 45 th President of the United States.

... Or the base can get off their ass, stop whining the world isn't full of cupcakes and bubblegum, and get to the polls.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 12:54PM | 0 recs
I agree

when liberals learn how to it is to govern, we can deal with them, right now, they're not worth even trying to please, because nothing will please them.

What is it Chris Matthews said "The netroots need to learn that change isn't the same as 'Mommy give me pancakes'"

I have to agree with him there.

by ND22 2009-11-04 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

Spot on.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

That's a myopic perspective.  There are many life long liberals who have been waiting for generations (labor and progressives of all stripes, for example) for real progressive change in the government's priorities.  Your acceptance of this false notion that somehow governing is conservative by nature is the obstacle to progressive change, not the demands of those who want a more equitable sociaety for all.  

by orestes 2009-11-04 01:32PM | 0 recs
Yes there is

and guess what, you just won...there were plenty of conservatives who waited decades for Ronald Reagan...and they continued to wait through his presidency and beyond for the changes they desired.

governing is not conservative by nature, it's slow by nature. It's an obstace to whatever change you seek. It was design purposely that way to prevent rash decisions. Seriously, read our founding fathers.

by ND22 2009-11-04 01:37PM | 0 recs
Spot on again

I said it in another post today ... a diary I did ... that things happen slowly in our government.  That is R.E.A.L.I.T.Y.

Some people need to start living in the real world.

Plus liberals have had to wait so long because they themselves give us people like Bush 43 by staying home, complaining there was no difference between Gore and Bush, and voting for Nader and the Greenturds.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes there is

Oh, do please explain to me how our founding fathers set up the government to act as an obstacle to change.  And don't discuss the separation of powers or amendment process because that's not what we are talking about here.  The separation of powers was designed to maintain balance among the branches of government.  But the founders contemplated the legislature as the strongest body.  

You like to speak in broad generalities, but they're meaningless.  For example, are you arguing that Reagan did not deliver to the conservatives?  He busted the unions, destroyed social services (ketchup for lunch, anyone?), diverted funds through tax breaks, ramped up the cold war.  He systematically dismantled much of what the American people had come to expect from their government.  How can you possibly argue he did not deliver?  The only reason to do so is because your argument fails if you don't.  

by orestes 2009-11-04 02:37PM | 0 recs
Talk to an arch conservative

about how Reagan didn't fully deliver.

I grew up in a family where everyone was Republican except my mom. They all loved Reagan, but they all agree Reagan didn't do everything they wanted or go as far as they liked.

by ND22 2009-11-04 02:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Talk to an arch conservative

The differences being a) Reagan was a partisan (Obama is not) b) He began a revolution while dealing with an opposite party (Obama is not)  etc.

There is also the comparison of Obama to other great Democratic Presidents such as FDR and LBJ. Frankly, he is coming up short.

Finally, the standards are so low amongst progressives that they will just be happy if Obama shows up to fight at this point, which he is not doing on moderate policies like the public option and not allowing banks to be too big to fail. And yes, both policies with over 60 percent support amongst Americans are moderate policies.

by bruh3 2009-11-04 05:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Talk to an arch conservative

Don't try to move the goal line.  The implication of your original statement is that conservatives did not get what they wished from Reagan- they had to continue to wait.  Faced with contrary evidence, you now argue that Reagan did not fully deliver- to the archest of conservatives.  That's a cheap move.  If your point is that conservatives didn't get what they wanted because some super-duper arch-conservative is still waiting for something, you're being ridiculous.

Also, I'm still waiting for my lecture on how the government was designed to be an obstacle to change.  Please enlighten me.

by orestes 2009-11-05 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

Funny how no one said that about right wing activists when the GOP was in charge.  They were never happy either, but their displeasure, "made them do it!"

No one ever suggested that Bush "tack left" when right wing activists complained.  In fact, they managed to get everything they wanted... and you wonder why liberals are upset?  It's taken us 40 years to get to where we want to be, and no one is listening.

BTW, if Obama loses the liberals, he is done.  We put him into office, we can take him out, just like we did with Creigh Deeds after he insulted our intelligence... Tacking right won't work.  

by LordMike 2009-11-04 07:38PM | 0 recs
They managed to get everything they wanted?

I know a dozen Republicans who would laugh at that statement.

by ND22 2009-11-05 12:19AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

It worked for Clinton.

Plus the conservatives have not gotten what they wanted ... they still don't have school prayer (or torn down the wall between church and state), they still have not outlawed abortion, they still have not put the gay marriage genie back in the bottle, among other things.    

You could argue the GOP is finally inploding because their leaders really didn't take the right seriously on many of these fronts.  Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 ... none were ever serious about proposing the 'Human Life Amendment', none fought very hard to weaken the seperation between church and state, none tried very hard to shrink government or turn back civil rights, etc.    

But Democratic leaders are working on a lot of the  big issues our voters said were important.   They are working on climate change, on health care, on consumer protections, on hate crime legislation, on stem cell research, etc.    Sure we may find lip service going forward.   Will Democrats make a stand on gay marriage at some point?   That jury is still out.   But there the far right may be able to rightly claim at this point "what is in it for me" (they did get their conservative court finally, under Bush), I don't think liberals are to that point yet, to fairly claim they have been abused.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-05 05:11AM | 0 recs
Re: I agree

You could try to argue that the GOP is imploding because it wasn't conservative enough, but I don't know if you could marshall any evidence to support it.  (Not that that is a major stumbling block to your other baseless claims.)  I think you will find that the evidence supports the conclusion (see NY-23) that the republican party has sequestered itself as an ultra-right wing fringe party.  That, and unconscionable corrupt activities, are the reason for its downfall.  

by orestes 2009-11-05 10:38AM | 0 recs

Obama should do some quick tea leave reading pronto.

If nothing he can do will perk up the base.  If the base is going to sit this one out because he can't check enough boxes to possibly satisfy them then he better start tracking right sooner than later and try to lure some of the indy's lost  and maybe grab some moderate Republicans who maybe feeling bummed by the Glenn Beck, teaparty, Jim DeMint purges in their own party.

by RichardFlatts 2009-11-04 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

I'm not sure Eisenhower really cared about being anything more than a caretaker President.  I'm pretty sure Obama cares and that he understands he can't do the sort of things he wants to do without solid Democratic majorities.  So the will is there.

I felt it was important that Obama stumped for Deeds because in the past it seems like he's been a little bashful about associating himself with lost causes, lest it take some of the shine off his own popularity.  Consider the 2008 Georgia runoff, for example.  So the Deeds campaigning presents a relevant counterpoint.

Bush did a lot of barnstorming in the 2002 midterms and it paid off.  Obama can certainly do the same.  The problem, and I hate to sound like a broken record from the primary, is that the post-partisan talk, the reluctance to call out the Republicans as the enemy unless forced to, makes it difficult for audiences to understand the fierce urgency of electing Candidate X.  Obama does the legwork of going to rallies and urging people to support this Democrat or that Democrat and that's valuable.  But in terms of summoning up grassroots energy and firing up the base, you have to get a little partisan about it.  You have to tell the base that we want to do X Y and Z things that progressives care about, but guess what, your local Republican is blocking them all and we need to vote him out.  The base was fired up and ready to go in 2008.  He needs to find a way to make that happen in 2010 even though he's not personally going to be on the ballot.

by Steve M 2009-11-04 01:10PM | 0 recs
Obama could do what Clinton did in 1998

Clinton basically went around and said that if Republicans won that election, he would be impeached and thrown out of office.  That was enough to motivate many African American and minority voters to vote Democratic in higher than expected numbers that year.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 01:36PM | 0 recs
and Republicans still won

they kept the House and Senate.

by ND22 2009-11-04 01:38PM | 0 recs
Re: and Republicans still won

But Democrats picked up seats in the House.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 01:46PM | 0 recs
Re: and Republicans still won

True, impeachment was good politically for Clinton. It helped highlight the differences with the GOP and railed the base to his defense.

However it was a terrible time for the nation. The GOP behaved liked spoiled brats with no respect for the offices they held.

by vecky 2009-11-04 02:04PM | 0 recs
5 seats

They won 5 seats lol. The GOP still narrowly won the popular vote.

Big whoop

by ND22 2009-11-04 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama could do what Clinton did in 1998

That strategy is pretty close to the bone, but the basic idea is valid.  You have to give people a sense of urgency that this election really, really matters.  The reason the Republicans are successfully mobilizing their base is that they're able to persuade them that Obama is destroying the world and he has to be stopped.

Of course, as the NY-23 results demonstrate, it's not sufficient just to motivate the base, but it's really not something you can do without either.

by Steve M 2009-11-04 02:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama could do what Clinton did in 1998

I think it's a given the dems will loose seats in 2010. We have a 40 seat majority and 60% of the both the house & senate, but only 55% of the pop is pro-dem. If we can keep loses in the house down to single digits we'll be doing good!

by vecky 2009-11-04 02:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama could do what Clinton did in 1998

Agreed completely.

by Steve M 2009-11-04 03:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama could do what Clinton did in 1998

I doubt we will see loses above 20 seats even in the worst of possible outcomes in the House. But that's just because of polling analysis by Charlie Cook. If the economy is doing well and we provide contrast to give voters a reason to come out, we will do okay enough to get what you want for numbers.

by bruh3 2009-11-04 05:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

Yes, yes, yes!!! His Post-partisanship thing has hurt Democrats significantly.  It's protected his brand, but the brunt of the problems have fallen to the Dems!

by LordMike 2009-11-04 07:40PM | 0 recs
Ill tell you one thing

If he doesnt deliver on healthcare, we cannot just let him abondon the issue like Clinton did.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 08:10PM | 0 recs
Ill tell you one thing

If he doesnt deliver on healthcare, we cannot just let him abondon the issue like Clinton did. We need to make him regret playing around with us on the issue.  If he cant get healthcare reform done, we should make sure he sinks.  

by Kent 2009-11-04 08:11PM | 0 recs
and you see

the #1 reason I hear from people on why they dropped out of politics in the past year is "all it is is Obama and the Republicans attacking each other back and forth"

So actually it seems here in New Jersey, he's not post-partisan enough.

by ND22 2009-11-05 12:22AM | 0 recs
Re: and you see

Political success involves giving the people what they want, not what they claim to want.  Otherwise you would never lose an election as long as you can read the polls.

We all know that Obama spends far more time trying to play fair with the Republicans than they spend returning the favor.  It's unfortunate that many people seem to parcel out the blame equally for this partisanship, because I don't think it's equally deserved.  But if the problem is that people aren't able to identify who's really responsible for all the partisan bickering, the remedy for Obama is not to dial down the partisanship even more.  He might as well start giving as good as he gets, because people are apparently going to blame him for being partisan even if he doesn't.  Ultimately results are what matter, whether you get there the easy way or the hard way.

by Steve M 2009-11-05 05:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

But see, when I was expressing this same worry back in the day, you were getting all Obot on me.  Now the irony is that you're generally angrier than I am!

The typical pro-Obama view was "don't worry, it's all just to establish that he's coming to the table in good faith, once the Republicans refuse to engage he won't be afraid to drop the hammer and call them obstructionist."  Well, maybe.  But sometime between now and November 2010 that hammer needs to fall!

by Steve M 2009-11-05 05:49AM | 0 recs
A healthcare bill is coming to a vote on sat

Climate Change just got through Boxer's committee...the hammer has already fallen, and all without him having to get all "partisany"

The fact is the netroots are the only people interested in seeing him call Republicans mean names, it doesn't solve anything except make the netroots happy, it doesn't move legislation, it doesn't win over independent voters, it doesn't even drive turnout as it appears partisanship is part of the reason turnout was low...and, quite frankly, the netroots need to wake up and see they're as much in control of the party as Slovakia is of the European Union.

by ND22 2009-11-05 09:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Will Obama Be a Democratic Eisenhower?

Unless the economy is in the tank in 2012, which I doubt it will be given the timing of the most recent financial crisis, Obama should cruise to re-election in 2012.  

Who do the Republicans have that can challenge the coalition Obama has built?  They are using a 2009 election to predict that Obama will have problems?  Talk to me after 2010.  I didn't vote this year because I am still exhausted from the 2008 election and there were not any important elections where I live.  However I will most certainly be out in force for Democrats in 2010 and 2012.  There must be many, many people just like me.

by agpc 2009-11-04 02:18PM | 0 recs


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