Obama’s Approval In The States: The Honeymoon Is Over — We’re Back To The Campaign

November 24, 2009 10:08 am

As you know, national polls have shown President Obama’s approval rating headed below 50% recently, a sign of discontent after his solid win in the 2008 election, and his sky-high approval ratings during his honeymoon period. But how has this worked out on a state by state level?

A look at key swing states suggests that the current political situation has really become a lot like last year — from one state to another, Obama’s approval ratings are pretty close to election results from 2008. Using those election results as a benchmark, it’s as clear a sign as any that the honeymoon is truly over — we’re right back to 2008 campaign mode, in terms of average voter opinion.

In all these states, and in the country overall, Obama had a very strong honeymoon period, but that really does seem to have worn off. There may be one difference, though, and it’s a crucial one: Obama’s own supporters aren’t as revved up as they were back then, while the opposition has become very energetic. And that can make all the difference in 2010.Florida
Obama won the perennial swing state of Florida by a 51%-48% margin over John McCain in 2008. According to Quinnipiac, his approval there is now just as close as the horse race last year. During the honeymoon period he was at 64%-23%, which eventually fell to 58%-35%, 47%-48% in August, and 48%-46% in October.

Obama won Iowa by 54%-45% in 2008, a pickup from a 50%-49% George W. Bush win in 2004. A new Des Moines Register poll has his approval rating now at 49%-44%, in line with the national polls. Back in January he was at 68%-12%, down to 64%-29% in April, 53%-41% in September, and now 54%-45%

In Ohio, Obama beat McCain by a 52%-47% margin. As of right now, a recent Quinnipiac poll gives Obama a net negative approval rating of 45%-50%. During his initial honeymoon period, he had a 67%-16% rating in February, which became 62%-31% in May, 49%-44% in July, 53%-42% in September, and now the negative 45%-50%.

John McCain held on to Missouri by 50%-49%, the first time the state voted for the losing presidential candidate since Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1956. Public Policy Polling (D) has Obama’s approval rating in negative territory, at 43%-52% — in a state that is having a close race for a key open Senate seat in 2010.

North Carolina
Obama won North Carolina by 50%-49% in 2008 — the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter in 1976. A recent Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows the state to be just as split now, with a 47%-47% tie on Obama’s approval.

Despite the McCain campaign’s intense efforts in western Pennsylvania, Obama kept the state Democratic by a whopping 55%-44% margin. Recently, though, the Quinnipiac poll shows his approval still in positive territory but blow 50%. It was 63%-22% during the February honeymoon, fell to 56%-37% in July, and as of early October was at 49%-42%.

Virginia — A Warning?
Measuring opinion in Virginia is a bit tricky — and reveals a key potential problem for Dems in 2010. Obama won the state in 2008, the first Democrat to do so since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The most recent survey by Public Policy Polling (D) gives Obama an approval rating of only 41%-52%.

However, this poll is subject to the likely-voter demographics from the 2009 gubernatorial race, in which the Democratic base was unenthusiastic and didn’t turn out heavily from Dem candidate Creigh Deeds. Obviously, the 2010 midterms could be very bad for the Democrats if this event repeated itself next year.

We asked PPP communications director Tom Jensen for some guidance on this. “If you re-weighted our final Virginia poll to an electorate that went 52-46 for Obama his approval would be 44% approve, 49% disapprove,” said Jensen. “It’s still not a perfect comparison though since maybe people who voted for Obama but are unhappy now were more motivated to turn out this year.”

Non-Swing States — The Same (Relative) Picture
The picture in non-swing states shows that the same circumstance generally holds — that Obama’s approval and disapproval numbers are in the same neighborhood as the Obama vs. McCain horse race from last year. For example, Obama is at 62%-24% in New York, which voted for him by 63%-36%. And he’s at 39%-57% in Kentucky, which voted for McCain by 58%-41%.

The Bottom Line
For Democrats to do well in 2010, they will need to have a reasonably popular president, with an enthusiastic base that they can rally voters to support. At at the margins, concerns about popularity can have real effects on policy decisions in Congress. Therefore, Obama’s ratings on a state-by-state basis are important — and for now, we seem to be back at the same polarized politics as usual.

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