Monday, June 4, 2012

Bad omens for Democrats

The end of the primary election season has brought a bevy of bad news for President Obama and the Democrats. The most obvious problem is President Obama’s difficulties in several recent primaries.

President Obama came perilously close to losing three Democratic primaries in May. In West Virginia, Obama lost over 40 percent of the vote and ten counties to a man in a federal prison in Texas. According to Politico, Keith Judd, a perennial candidate won at least one delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In Arkansas, according to Reuters, Democratic voters gave John Wolfe more than 40 percent of the vote. Wolfe, a lawyer, is not in prison. In Kentucky, Reuters reports that 42 percent of Democrats chose “uncommitted” rather than cast their ballots for the president. These results follow the March primary in Oklahoma in which President Obama lost 43 percent of the vote to a slate of five challengers including pro-life activist Randall Terry according to Politico. The results are widely interpreted to be a message of dissatisfaction with President Obama’s performance during his first term.

A comparison of voter turnout in the 2008 and 2012 primaries also reveals that Democratic voter turnout has also sharply decreased. This is likely due in part to the fact that President Obama does not have a competitive primary race this year. In 2008, the heated campaign between Obama and Hillary Clinton drew many voters. Nevertheless, a lack of approval and enthusiasm for Obama is almost certain to be partially responsible as well.

A June 3 Rasmussen poll contained more bad news for the president. The new poll showed Republican Mitt Romney leading Obama by a margin of 48-44 percent. Forty percent of voters are certain that they will vote for Romney and 36 percent are certain that they will vote for Obama. President Obama’s approval rating is at 45 percent while 53 percent disapprove.

Because a presidential election is actually composed of 50 separate elections, however, opinion polls can be deceiving. The election in the Electoral College will probably come down to a handful of swing states. The traditional swing states in recent elections include Ohio, Florida, and Colorado. Additional states that might be up for grabs in 2012 include North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Nevada. All of these states were won by Obama in 2008.

A recent Rasmussen poll shows Mitt Romney moving ahead of President Obama in Ohio by a margin of 46-44 percent. In Florida, where the most recent polls are weeks old, the two candidates are in a dead heat. A Real Clear Politics average of polls gives Romney a half point lead. In Colorado, where the polls are also several weeks old, Real Clear Politics gives Obama a slight edge. In North Carolina, Real Clear Politics gives Romney an advantage of 2.5 points. In both Virginia and Nevada, Obama still holds a lead of two points although his lead is eroding. In almost all cases, the movement has been steadily toward Romney over the past few months.

The bad news for Democrats is not limited to President Obama’s poll numbers. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was elected in 2010, has been the target of a recall election prompted by his legislation that stripped public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights. The high profile recall election is a bellwether for the fight to rein in the public sector unions whose pay and benefits are breaking many state budgets. Yahoo reports that two new polls both show Gov. Walker keeping his job. Although President Obama currently leads Romney in Wisconsin’s presidential polls according to the RCP average, Mitt Romney may ride Walker’s coattails to victory.

In solidly blue Massachusetts President Obama is almost certain to beat Mitt Romney, he currently has a 20 point lead according to the RCP average, and Elizabeth Warren should be a heavy favorite to unseat one-term senator Scott Brown. Over the last few weeks, however, Warren has been embarrassed by charges that she claimed to be a Native American in order to benefit from minority status at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. Warren admits making the claim, but, according to National Journal, has offered no evidence beyond family lore to back it up. To make matters worse for Warren, it was also discovered that she plagiarized several recipes that she submitted to a Native American cookbook.

Other Democratic elected officials seem worried about their associations with Obama. Two prominent Democrats from West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, have refused to endorse President Obama for re-election according to Examiner. The most recent polling in West Virginia, a Public Policy Poll that is eight months old, favored Mitt Romney by 21 points.

More recently, Artur Davis, an Alabama congressman once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, decided to completely leave the party completely and become a Republican. Davis, who is black, wrote on his website that he is cutting ties with the Democratic Party and moving to Virginia. Davis says that he may run for Congress in Virginia or for a seat in the Virginia legislature as a Republican.

In changing parties, Davis cites a laundry list of grievances common to conservative Democrats. On his blog he writes, “I have regularly criticized an agenda that would punish businesses and job creators with more taxes just as they are trying to thrive again.” He continues, “… Faith institutions should not be compelled to violate their teachings because faith is a freedom, too.” On immigration, Davis says he winces “at the Obama Administration’s efforts to tell states they can’t say the word immigration in their state laws, and [I] find it foolish when I hear their lawyers say that a local cop can’t determine the legal status of a suspect….”  On Obamacare, he says, “… We have gone about mending the flaws in our healthcare system is the wrong way—it goes further than we need and costs more than we can bear.” As a summary, he writes that “… The symbolism of Barack Obama winning has not given us the substance of a united country.”

Rank and file Democrats are leaving the party as well. Gallup reports that Democratic party identification has fallen from a high of 36 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011. Republican party identification is statistically unchanged, but a record high of 40 percent of Americans now identify as independents.

Perhaps the worst news for Democrats is in the form of economic reports released over the past few days. On June 1, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the economy had added only 69,000 jobs in May, causing an uptick in the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent. The same report put the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate at 63.8 percent.

In contrast, BLS historical data shows that the Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate was 65.7 percent in January 2009 when President Obama took office. In the three years of the Obama Administration, the number of employed Americans has dropped by almost two percent, even as the total population of the country has increased.

To make matters worse, Market Watch reports that the Commerce Department has revised U.S. economic growth in the first quarter of 2012 down to 1.9 percent. The previous estimate was 2.2 percent. Both estimates were sharply lower than the three percent growth in fourth quarter of 2011, indicating that the economy is slowing once again.

The bad economic news will be a confirmation to many voters that President Obama’s economic policies have not solved the financial crisis or ended the recession. Although the Great Recession officially ended years ago, the current recovery is the slowest of any since the Great Depression according to the Wall Street Journal. Voters realize that the economy is not doing well and it will likely affect how they vote. That is not an encouraging sign for the party in power.

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