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Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a chance?

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NOTE: I'm back from a family funeral in South Carolina. Thanks to my colleague Sue Sturgis for holding down the fort in my absence.

Barack Obama.jpgIt's time for another Friday Poll Watch -- here are some interesting numbers I've run across lately:

DID SOUTHERNERS EVER GIVE OBAMA A CHANCE?

It's a point we've made before, but the latest DailyKos/Research 2000 weekly tracking poll drives it home: Obama is a popular president -- just not in the South.

According to the poll, Obama has had net positive approval ratings every month he's been in office in the North, Midwest and West.

But in the South, Obama barely had time to change the drapes in the White House before his  net approval ratings went into negative
territory. By early March 2009, just two months after his inauguration, Obama's net approval went below zero in the Southern region.

Obama's net approval in the South had sunk to a staggering net -40 points in August 2009 -- still a mere eight months since his inauguration. It's stayed there ever since.

Given that over 95% of African-Americans nationally still approve of Obama's performance, the vast majority of Obama's rapidly-declining fortunes in the South can be chalked up to one demographic: Southern whites.

Many Southern whites didn't like Obama to begin with. For example: In 2008 exit polls, over 14% of Louisiana voters openly said Obama's race was a "factor" in voting against him -- and that was in a state where more whites are Democrats than Republicans.

But it's notable that, as of January 2009, despite losing two-thirds of the Southern Electoral College vote, the president still had a +30 net approval in the South. Just two months later, the good will had mostly faded; by summer, it had entirely vanished and turned into fierce opposition.

Maybe Southerners were just putting on a show when they gave Obama a thumbs-up to pollsters at the beginning; maybe they sincerely were hopeful he'd bring change.

Either way, it's clear that white Southerners didn't give Obama much of a chance, and were comfortable to openly turn against him just weeks after he settled into office.

For more on this topic, see part 2: Southern whites and Obama: What about North Carolina?

IT REALLY IS THE ECONOMY

Pollsters make their living telling us about week-to-week horse races and the rise and fall of politicians. But The Monkey Cage points to research by Jim Stimson (via Ezra Klein) reminds us that this isn't how everyday people see the world.

Stimson has two excellent charts: The first shows that the public's view of the President, Congress and even governors all trend together -- in other words, when things aren't going well, people get frustrated with government in general, not just one or other party or piece of government.
GovtApproval.PNG

So what causes the public to approve or disapprove of government? The economy, as chart two shows:

Economy Approval.PNG

It's not a perfect correlation, but it's pretty tight -- the only time the pattern didn't hold was after 9/11, for obvious reasons.

What does this mean? That the public will have a better perception of government in general -- including its component pieces of Obama and sitting lawmakers in Washington and at the state level -- if and when the economy improves.

FICKLE MILLENNIALS?

The Millennial Generation -- the 18-29 age group -- were a big part of Obama's victory and the Democratic resurgence in 2006-2008. But as economic troubles continue and high hopes are tempered, Pew finds the strong pro-Democratic lean of younger voters is softening:

The Democratic advantage over the Republicans in party affiliation
among young voters, including those who "lean" to a party, reached a
whopping 62% to 30% margin in 2008. But by the end of 2009 this
32-point margin had shrunk to just 14 points: 54% Democrat, 40%
Republican.

But Pew adds that "this age group continues to favor the Democratic Party more than do
other generations." And while it's hard to chart the political identity of a generation -- if for no other reason because a person's views will evolve as they get older -- Pew also argues that "the underlying political values of this new
generation continue to be significantly more liberal than those of
other generations on many measures."

Short-term, however, it's clear this adds to the already mounting problems for Democrats in 2010.

QUICK TAKES

* MEET THE FLINSTONES: Majority of Texans don't believe in evolution.

* NC <3 GAYS IN MILITARY: Majority in military-friendly North Carolina OK with gays serving openly in military, support repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

* HOW BIG IS THE PARTY? The Tea Party, that is -- estimates of national support range up to 18%.

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re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

But don't we make the rest of the country feel so much more righteous?

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

The South is a mystery to me. I do not understand how folks can be so backward. Perhaps it would have been best for everyone if they had split from the Union.

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

Here in Georgia, the "W" stickers still adorn thousands of car windows. I recently saw a car on a suburban interstate with a "God Bless Dick Cheney" bumper sticker; I'm not kidding. My wife came home recently with a puzzled expression. It seems that one of her friends attends a church where the minister said that the election of Obama was foretold in the Bible as one of the signs that the end times are nigh; she asked was there anything like that in the Bible, which I assured her, there wasn't. Last week I had a conversation with a minister the was going on about a postage stamp with Obama, "an admitted Muslim", on it. I told him that Obama was not Muslim, to which he replied, "I've heard him admit it".

Being liberal in the South is like being the only sane person in the asylum.

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

You wrote, "Maybe Southerners were just putting on a show when they gave Obama a thumbs-up to pollsters at the beginning; maybe they sincerely were hopeful he'd bring change."

THIS Southern white was sincerely hoping for change. After working very hard to get Obama elected and to provide a Democratic majority, all I see is an administration seeking bi-partisanship with the Republicans, who are against nearly every value I hold dear.

Obama's loss of popularity is not because we suddenly realized he is black. Implying that it is just makes matters worse, feeding the idea that all Southerners think about is race. The loss comes from unmet needs for universal healthcare, an end to the occupation in Iraq, and swift, effective action to slow global warming. It's from fear about the economy and the unchecked rise of corporatism.

It's that we're reading Paul Krugman of all people writing "Oh. My. God." in a post where he calls the President "clueless" for comparing the enormous Wall Street bonuses to the pay received by baseball players.

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/10/clueless/?scp=1&sq=paul%20krugman%20%22oh.%20my.%20god.%22&st=cse

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

About the same chance than northern liberals gave Bush. It is really a lot of psycho-babble to keep trying to excuse Obama's lack of preparation and failure in the Oval office with the country's racism, regionalism, parochialism, etc. He was just a Mayor Daley bag man from the most partisan city in the world-- 49 to 1 Dem on Chicago city council. Anyone who thought Obama had a clue about bipartisanship is in love with either Barrack or his wife. former Clinton supporter

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

"It's a point we've made before, but the latest DailyKos/Research 2000 weekly tracking poll drives it home: Obama is a popular president -- just not in the South."

Sorry but the Daily Kos poll doesn't jive with other polls out and about. The man behind the poll is a raving atheistic liberal who makes no attempt to hide his hatred for southerners and conservative Americans. Barack Obama is not popular in much of America. Plenty of other polls show Obama's popularity is low in many non-southern states. Consider that a recent poll found Obama deeply unpopular in Kansas, modestly popular in liberal Oregon and that he'd lost his popularity in Washington State, too. It's not just the South - it's happening all over America.

re: Friday Poll Watch: Did Southern whites ever give Obama a cha

This is a month late.

But it would help if we all tried to take Southern attitudes seriously, not to waste energy regarding the region as "backward."

Racial conflict is deep-seated, though it is obvious that racial conflict exists in some form in New York, Illinois and other places. Goldwater-induced Republicanism is very intense. Dependence on Federal expenditures is very deep, even as white people denounce "Washington." (You do not find African Americans denouncing "Washington.") Biblical Protestantism is very intense amongst white and African Americans, though the two groups make different things of it.

If we want to understand the polls, we should not stop with the pollsters. Go to the academic writing of Hanes Walton, Jr. and those of Earl Black and Merle Black. (Disclosure: Walton is a close friend and the Blacks are good colleagues.)