The latest wave of polls shows President Obama’s job approval rating drifting steadily downward, into the mid-40s, and that’s hardly surprising.
Controversies around US government surveillance of telephones and the Internet, the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of tea party groups, Justice Department snooping into journalists’ phone records, and the US response to last September’s terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, have put the Obama administration on the defensive.
Public views of Mr. Obama’s personal qualities have also taken a hit: The latest CNN/ORC International survey, released Monday, shows that, for the first time in his presidency, half the public does not believe Obama is honest and trustworthy. All of the above cuts into Obama’s “political capital,” that elusive commodity that fuels a president's second-term mojo.
But perhaps most concerning for the president are the numbers among young adults.
“The drop in Obama's support is fueled by a dramatic 17-point decline over the past month among people under 30, who, along with black Americans, had been the most loyal part of the Obama coalition," CNN polling director Keating Holland said in the cable network’s report.
That’s just one poll, and the margin of error for any one age group is high – plus or minus 7.5 percent. Among Americans age 18 to 34, Obama’s now at 48 percent, not too far from 50. But it’s a cohort Obama can ill afford to lose. And there have been other recent worrying signs for the president among the young.
An April survey of 3,100 voters under age 30, the so-called “millennials,” by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University shows that only 39 percent trust the president to do the right thing, compared with 44 percent in 2010.
The news, in fact, is bad for Washington and politicians in general, as young voters show increasing negativity and cynicism with the political process. Almost three-fifths of young Americans (59 percent) said they agree that elected officials seem motivated by “selfish reasons” – an increase of 5 points since 2010. Some 56 percent agree that “elected officials don’t have the same priorities I have,” also up 5 points from 2010. And 28 percent agree that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results,” an increase of 5 points since 2010.
“If you are 24 years old, all you know is petty partisan politics while big issues aren’t getting addressed, while the economy is still struggling,” IOP director Trey Grayson told The New York Times.
Still, Republicans hardly have reason to gloat. A post-mortem on the 2012 elections released June 3 by the College Republicans, using polling and focus groups, called the current situation among young voters “dismal.”
When young Obama voters who were seen as potentially “winnable” by the GOP last fall were asked to describe the Republican Party, the terms were harsh: “closed-minded,” “racist, “rigid,” and “old-fashioned.”
And while young voters wanted lower taxes and less government regulation on small business – bedrock GOP views – they felt they would reap the benefits of Republican policies only after becoming wealthy.
“We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won’t offer a hand to help you get there,” the report said.
The College Republican National Committee consoled itself with the disillusion many young voters feel with the Democratic Party. But it’s a lesser-of-two-evils proposition. Young Americans “simply dislike the Republican Party more.”