Presidential Popularity: When presidents are unpopular, their parties typically lose seats. With President Obama’s approval rating in dismal territory, it’s doubtful this election will be an exception. In the most recent ABC/Post poll, the president’s 40 percent approval rating is the lowest of his career. In early October 2010, his approval rating was at 50 percent, and the Democrats lost more than 60 seats in the House. Bill Clinton’s approval rating in his sixth year was 60 percent, and his party gained seats. The president isn’t on the ballot, of course, and most people say he won’t be a factor in their vote. But of the remainder, more people in recent polls say their vote will be to express opposition to him than say it will be to express support.
The Mood: It’s not new news that Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country. But the mood seems particularly sour. In Fox’s latest poll, 58 percent of registered voters say that “Things are going to hell in a hand basket.” Only 35 percent feel that “Everything will be alright.” One measure of discontent is the familiar right direction/wrong track question first asked by the Roper Organization in 1973. In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, just 25 percent of registered voters say things in the nation are generally headed in the right direction, while 65 percent say things are off on the wrong track. In mid-October 2010, registered voters were slightly more optimistic. Thirty-two percent gave the right track response, and the Democrats still had huge losses. In his analysis for the ABC/Post poll, Gary Langer notes that approval ratings and views that the country is on the right track correlate highly with midterm gains and losses. This is bad news for Democrats.
It’s Still the Economy: Gallup reported earlier this summer that although public confidence in the economy was improving slightly, the public “still shows greater concern over it than in prior midterm elections.” In recent polls, most people say that the economy will be the top issue for them personally in this election. The ABC/Post poll reports that 22 percent of Americans say their finances have become better since Obama became president, 30 percent say worse, and 46 percent say they have stayed about the same. Even more ominous, only 16 percent of Americans think the standard of living in the country has been getting better, while 57 percent say it has been getting worse.