Will Obama's "backyard chats" help Democrats?

13:43, October 13, 2010      

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While U.S. President Barack Obama has spent weeks campaigning countrywide for Democrats in the run-up to the Congressional elections, his speeches and "backyard chats" have done little to change forecasts of big Republican gains for November.

That is because voters' major concern is jobs as unemployment rates linger near double digits, and recent polls show that Americans give the president poor marks on his handling of the economy.

Still, some analysts say Obama could help Democrats somewhat if he tries to get young people and African Americans out to vote.

"Obama's travels and public rallies are not likely to change the election dynamic or the overall Republican or Democratic enthusiasm to vote," said John Fortier, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The approval rating of Obama has plunged from around 70 percent at the start of his presidency to less than 50 percent now.

That is setting GOP candidates up for big wins in November -- some Democratic candidates even tried to distance themselves from the president, focusing on issues important to their districts.


The president's main theme has been to urge voters not to return to the Republican policies that he argues got the United States into the economic mess it is in today.

At a fundraiser in Miami on Monday, Obama referred to the GOP Pledge to America -- the party's main election platform -- as "snake oil."

"Do we return to the same failed policies that ran our economy into a ditch, or do we keep moving forward with policies that are slowly pulling us out?" he said last month in Ohio.

That message, however, is not resonating with many voters, as Americans are increasingly viewing the Great Recession as belonging to Obama.

Dan Mahaffee, special assistant to the president at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said voters tend to have very short memories. And after 18 months, they are no longer linking the worst recession since the 1930s to the previous administration.

Fortier said the best message the Democrats can come up with is to blame former President George W. Bush and the GOP for the economic woes.

"These are not the best messages, but they are the best Democrats have," he said.

Some experts said it is too late for a complete about-face of U.S. voter sentiment against the majority Democratic Congress.

Many have already made up their minds on the elections, as people' s impressions of the economy are formed several months before the election and are not swayed by last minute good news, Fortier said.


Fortier said the best Obama could do is to continue to help raising money for candidates in close races. In such races, some last minute deciders could make a difference.

Around 15 percent to 20 percent of voters might be expected to make up their minds in the last two weeks, he said.

For Obama, the best tactic would be to get out the vote in key districts, especially by galvanizing young people and African American voters the way he did during the presidential elections, Mahaffee said.


History is also on the side of Republicans, as the party in power usually loses the first mid-terms after the election of a new president.

In both 1994 and 2006 -- the two most recent mid-term elections that saw a shift in the balance of power -- the percentage of voters saying most members of Congress should be re-elected fell below 40 percent, as it does today, according to Gallup, a polling organization.

While Republicans are not popular, either, they may still be able to coast into victory on a wave of anti-majority sentiments, experts say.

Source: Xinhua


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