Obama’s declining approval rating is generating the usual “horse race” stories reading Obama’s loss as a gain for the Republicans. Bloomberg News quote below. I suggest a more plausible, profound, and persistent perspective (what I’ll do for the sake of alliteration). The next time, disaffected voters are going to shift more left. The 20-30 year leftward swing of the political pendulum is gathering momentum.“Just as the world’s largest economy is finally getting better, the public’s opinion of President Barack Obama’s handling of it is getting worse…. Yet Obama will carry into next week’s State of the Union address weakening approval ratings on the economy. What’s happening, Republicans and some Democrats say, is that voters left behind in the recovery now blame him and not his predecessor, George W. Bush, and could punish Obama’s fellow Democrats in this year’s congressional elections. In a Bloomberg National Poll last month, 58 percent of Americans disapproved of Obama’s economic stewardship, his worst showing since September 2011. Surveys by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News and Quinnipiac University show similar results.” http://tinyurl.com/pymr37n
The coverage assumes that the “negative” respondents all disapprove for the same reason. This flies in the face of reason. We need to divide that “disapprove” group into two very different segments.
- Republicans (no change): Probably 40 points worth of the “disapprove” group and consistent over time. No change here. No news here.
- Disaffected Democrats and Independents (the source of the increase): The 10-20 point swing in the approval numbers has to come almost entirely from this group.
Growing frustration with Obama reflects growing frustration with the (plutocratic) status quo. Voters don’t want the status quo. They want the “change” they voted for in 2008 and 2012. Change Obama hasn’t (really) delivered. Underlying that is a growing resentment that “the recovery” has helped the 1% and bypassed the 99%.
Their frustration is that Obama hasn’t been MORE progressive and MORE “liberal.” Obama’s inherently centrist instincts (and continued hobnobbing with the likes of Larry Summers) fuel a rising sense that 2008’s “hope and change” was no more than “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” As much as Obama gets demonized as a Socialist, he really hasn’t (and didn’t) try to shake up the existing power structure. The 99%, feeling increasingly left behind, are walking away.
The short-term question is, “What are those disaffected voters likely to do when it comes to election time?” There are two likely answers and one highly un-likely one.
- Stay home: This is a reasonable forecast for 2014. Disappointed voters will declare a “pox on both your houses” and vote by non-participation. This would be a positive for Republicans in the 2014 elections.
- Show up in droves: This is also a less-likely-but-still-reasonable forecast for 2014. In 2014, things like minimum wage and marijuana ballot initiatives will give individual state liberals a reason to show up and to send a message. Immigration reform could also help (I think the Republicans will end up wounding themselves here in 2014). It is also the LIKELY forecast for the 2016 presidential election cycle. Democratic turnout is usually strong and the Republican primary will probably have reminded them what they are voting “against.”
- Vote Republican(?!?!). Not! That is the one thing these disaffected voters will not do. Obama may be a disappointment, but these disaffected voters are the LEAST likely to vote Republican. “The 47%” aren’t going to shift to the party of “the 1%.”
You can see other signs of this liberal/progressive trend in things like the New York City mayoral election, drug legalization, and the surprising emergence of the minimum wage as a real issue. Those trends will gather strength and will, by 2016, probably have out-run the Democratic party’s (currently centrist-to-center-right) establishment. Look for the entertaining prospect of Hillary trying to show she is actually as “liberal” as her detractor’s make her out to be. More importantly, look for a major “wave” election with the sort of ideological tinge we typically associate with the Republican party.
None of the above will turn us into a socialist nation. I think it will actually be healthy for a long time to come. But whether it is healthy or not, it is likely. If you think otherwise – take a minute to watch the videos coming out of Ukraine and Thailand this week. We are in the midst of a global, deep, tidal-force movement of middle-lower-class push-back against the current power elite. Change will happen. Far better to effect that change that in the ballot box than in the streets.