President Obama remains highly popular among liberal Democrats, despite his tax cut compromise with Republicans that sparked a major upset on the left.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Mr. Obama’s job approval at 87 percent among self-identified liberal Democrats, slightly down from late October, and almost exactly where it was in early October. Gallup has also found noteworthy consistency in Obama’s job approval overall for the past six months (in the mid 40s), and only a slight decrease among liberal Democrats in the past few weeks – a dip that started, in fact, before the tax deal.
The latest Gallup poll, taken Dec. 6-12, shows Obama with a 79 percent job-approval rating among liberal Democrats, down from 83 percent the previous week and 81 percent the week before. The tax deal, which included extension of the Bush tax cuts for two years, was announced on Dec. 6. In the preceding six months, Gallup showed Obama consistently in the mid to high 80s among liberal Democrats.
“Liberal support for the president has held up quite impressively,” says Karlyn Bowman, a polling expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “Certainly there has been a very noisy group getting a lot of attention, but they may not be as representative of the base as they claim to be overall.”
At the same time, support for Obama among independents has also remained static in the low 40s in recent weeks, despite suggestions that the tax cut compromise might win back some of the independent voters who helped Obama to the presidency.
After nearly two years in office and – until now – little bipartisan deal-making, Obama stunned liberal elites early last week with a compromise that violated one of his most-repeated campaign promises: to allow tax cuts for upper-income Americans to expire at the end of the year. The deal also reinstituted the estate tax, but with terms that exempted most Americans. It also reduced the payroll tax for the next year, as a way to spur job growth, but progressives cried foul that it would weaken Social Security.
An angry House Democratic caucus voted to keep the proposal from the floor. Progressive activist groups expressed outrage that Obama had betrayed them. But the “or else” was always vague: It’s not that liberals would suddenly start voting Republican, but they could decide not to vote at all in 2012, or at least scale back on grass-roots activism.
The small dip in Obama’s job approval among liberal Democrats correlates with polling that asks directly about the tax deal, though it’s not possible to say that the tax deal caused the dip in job approval, says Frank Newport, editor in chief at Gallup.
We do know liberal Democrats were less positive about the compromise when we tested that independently, and other [polls] have found the same,” says Mr. Newport. “So there’s a correlation, but not necessarily proof of causation.”
And to put things in perspective, while Obama polls consistently overall in the mid-40s, Congress’s job approval just reached a new all-time low for Gallup at 13 percent.
Progressive activists aren’t deterred by a sense that Obama somehow “got away” with a betrayal. They know that he faces a new political reality since the November midterms, when Republicans won big and will control the House come January. There’s also some evidence that congressional Democrats wish they had at least been consulted, and not presented with a fait accompli reached between Obama and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The deal that ultimately passes will end up being slightly different from that original framework, though not substantially.
But, activists say, they’re watching closely – and if the disappointment persists, it could damage Obama’s reelection effort.
“[We] will continue to fight for progressive values,” says Levana Layendecker, communications director at Democracy for America. But “if the president continues to compromise our values and his own values for expediency’s sake, it will be harder for us to gather our supporters to go out and volunteer for him.”