According to retiring Rep. Marion Berry, Obama promises Democrats that 2010 will not be a repeat of 1994 because Obama is personally popular. This should maybe not give Democrats in swing districts much comfort given Obama’s job approval numbers in contested districts.
“I’ve been doing that with this White House, and they just don’t seem to give it any credibility at all,” Berry said. “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’ We’re going to see how much difference that makes now.”
While Obama still has decent national job approval numbers, that does not matter in congressional races. Each seat is fought for, district by district, and in many swing districts, Obama’s job approval numbers are dismal. In the four likely swing districts in the FDL/SurveyUSA polls, Obama’s job approval numbers never went above 42% (IN-09 38%, NY-01 42%, OH-01 42%, AR-02 33%). It was only in Ohio’s first district that Obama’s job approval number was slightly above the likely vote for the Democratic incumbent, Steve Driehaus, and that probably speaks more to how bad both politicians are polling in the district than Obama’s relative popularity.
Obama’s high national approval ratings may be an indication of his almost unshakably high job approval ratings with some groups, like African Americans, young voters, and people living in large cities, but not a sign of broad, geographic support important for many House races. After all, a new Gallup study did find that Obama has the most polarized first year job approval rate on record. Part of this is a growing ideological uniformity within the party and Obama’s very high job approval ratings among self-identified Democrats.
Obama may turn out to be a difficult political tool for House Democrats to use. His strong national job approval could be hiding very serious job disapproval rates in individual swing districts, or, at least, sections of swing districts.