Obama’s Floor, Party’s Midterm Wall: 40 as the New 50

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Barack Obama waves to guests as he walks across the South Lawn before leaving the White House on March 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

For some time now, in the daily tracking of presidential job approval at the Gallup Poll, President Barack Obama has run as low as 39 and 40 percent in the public’s measure.

The president’s approval ratings hit that trough in early November, as news of the partial federal shutdown spurred by Republican insistence on blocking “Obamacare” yielded to news that the Obama administration  had botched the rollout of the health care exchanges opening under his own signature Affordable Care Act.

Since Nov. 2-4, in the Gallup track, Obama’s rating has bounced along that floor of 39 and 40 percent, occasionally rising above 40 percent and peaking at 46 percent in one round of surveys, and stands at 40 percent in the latest polling.

By some measures, he has fared better — with 48 percent approval in the latest Bloomberg National Poll, up six points from December. There’s actually an 11-point spread in a range of polls conducted since early March, with RealClearPolitics reporting an average of 42.9 percent approval for Obama’s job performance.

All of which has fed a narrative that is unhelpful for the president’s party heading into the midterm congressional elections in which Republicans hope to take control of the Senate and with it all of Congress.

The president’s approval ratings were running in the mid-40s in the months leading to the 2010 midterm elections, when opposition to the president’s health care law played a role in congressional campaigns, and the Democrats lost control of the House.

Even in the best of times, midterm elections don’t tend to play well for the president’s party, but, as Gallup has found in the past, when a president’s approval ratings run below 50 percent, the president’s party has lost an average of 36 House seats in those midterms. That average was boosted by the big loss of 53 seats that the Democrats lost in 1994, during President Bill Clinton’s first midterm elections.

The House is sure to remain Republican this year. And, with the Senate just six seats away from Republican control, Democrats are the defending party in 21 of this year’s 35 Senate races — including seven in states that Obama lost at re-election in 2012.

Voter turnout is part of the problem for a president’s party in midterm elections. David Plouffe, who helped Obama win election in 2008 and went on to write about that victory in “The Audacity to Win,” told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt in an interview that aired over the weekend that the party has “a turnout issue.”

The outcome of the special congressional election in Florida last week, where a Republican won by almost two percentage points in a district that Obama carried by 1.5 points in 2012, Plouffe said, “is a screaming siren that the same problems that afflicted us” in 2010 when Democrats lost control of the House “could face us again.”

In 2010, Obama’s approval rating was running under 50 percent.

In early 2014, on average, he’s having some trouble hanging on to the low 40s.

Neither is a favorable scenario for the party in power.

The president’s party can only hope the president has found his floor.

In anyone’s polling, under-40 is a lot worse than under-50.

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