Did attendees at a President Obama campaign event on Sunday leave early because Mr. Obama is unpopular?
That’s the story that’s going around some corners of the social media world Monday. The interpretation by some is that the events of a rally in Maryland’s Prince George’s County reflect of Obama’s low national favorability ratings, and that means trouble for Democrats come November.
Well, lots of Democratic candidates aren’t happy with midterm elections approaching. The chances are very good for strong Republican gains and a GOP takeover of the Senate. Obama’s poll numbers are indeed abysmal.
But the supposed walkout? We’re pretty sure it had little if anything to do with voter dissatisfaction with the president.
First, the back story: Obama left the White House for a campaign swing over the weekend, and his first stop Sunday was a rally in Prince George’s County. His goal was to push for African-American turnout in November and to boost Anthony Brown, the current lieutenant governor and Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland.
Roughly 8,000 people showed up, according to an Associated Press analysis. They packed a high school gym and nearby overflow room. Many had to park so far away it took them considerable time to reach the event.
The crowd was predominantly minority, in one of the bluest counties in one of the bluest states in America. It represented the core of remaining support for Obama in the United States. The Obama/Biden ticket got 90 percent of the vote in Prince George’s County in 2012, after all.
Obama’ s still extremely popular among African-American voters nationally. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 87 percent of black voters have a favorable opinion of Obama’s job performance. (Among whites, the corresponding number is 31 percent.)
Among Democrats overall, Obama has 75 percent approval rating, according to that same survey.
And in Maryland, Democrats remain in good shape. In a year that’s shaping up as a big one for the GOP, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Brown is ahead of his Republican opponent, Larry Hogan, by 11 percentage points, according to a RealClearPolitics average of major polls.
But it’s true: in Prince George’s on Sunday, not everybody stayed to hear him finish speaking. About 10 minutes in to a 25 minute speech, enough people were trying to leave that there was a “traffic jam” next to the table where the press pool was sitting, according to pool reporter Jennifer Epstein of Politico.
Why? Who knows? It’s possible they had their pictures of the president and wanted to go home to watch football. It’s possible they had heard his stories urging them to get their relatives to the polls many times before. It’s possible they were tired from the wait.
“It is not clear why they left; many people had to park far from the school,” writes Katie Zezima of The Washington Post.
It’s unlikely the crowd was expressing dissatisfaction with Obama or his message per se, however. As we noted, they represent Obama’s remaining well-spring of support.
This did not stop respectable journalists from using the flowing crowd as a metaphor. Reuters' Jeff Mason wrote that the departures “underscored [Obama’s] continuing unpopularity.”
This is true, in that Obama is unpopular nationally, and people left, and “underscore” is a verb of useful flexibility.
But were the events actually related? Do they indicate a lack of motivation among core Obama voters?
Or do truly unmotivated voters bother to show up at Sunday voter rallies at all?