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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Is “The Party Base” Fed Up With Obama? No.

This item by Ed Kilgore was first published on January 5, 2010.
Anyone paying attention to political discourse during the last two or three months is aware of an acute unhappiness with the Obama administration among a goodly number of self-conscious progressives, sometimes expressed in terms of the president’s “betrayal” of “the Democratic base,” which may not turn out to support the party in November.
But is “the Democratic base” really as upset with Obama as elements of the progressive commentariat?
Mark Blumenthal looks at the numbers over at pollster.com, and concludes there’s not much evidence of displeasure with the president among rank-and-file Democrats, particularly those of a more progressive bent. Using Gallup’s weekly tracking poll of presidential approval ratings as a benchmark, Blumenthal notes:

Obama’s rating among liberal Democrats the week before Christmas (89 percent) was just a single percentage point lower than in the first week of his presidency (90 percent). None of this suggests a full revolt.

Approval ratings, of course, don’t get at intensity of support or disdain, which could have an impact on voting participation, particularly in midterm elections. So Blumenthal goes on to look at more nuanced measurements:

Between late February and mid-December, the ABC/Post survey shows an overall decline in Obama’s strongly favorable rating from 43 percent to 31 percent. Among liberal Democrats, strong approval started out at 77 percent in February and varied between a low of 72 percent and a high of 81 percent through mid-September. It fell in October (65 percent) and November (67 percent) before rebounding in December (76 percent).

So that’s a one point drop in Obama’s high “strong approval” rating from self-identified liberals between February and December.
Now everyone doesn’t mean “self-identified liberal Democrats” when they refer to the “party base.” As Blumenthal notes, Bob Brigham, among others, has suggested that “base” really refers to smaller communities like activists or donors. But it is fair to say that the political relevance of any particular community is somewhat limited if its views are sharply at odds with those of rank-and-file voters who say they share the same ideology.
Remember that next time anyone presumes to speak exclusively for “the base.”

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