How Will Obama’s Approval Ratings Impact Midterm Elections?

BY dchinni  August 2, 2010 at 12:12 PM EDT

As August arrives and people begin thinking in earnest about the midterm elections, there is a growing discussion of the impact of President Obama on November. Last week the president told a group of Democratic congressmen he may offer help, by not appearing in their districts.

Such is the life of a president overseeing a country roiled by economic troubles and facing the dreaded off-year election — when the party in power traditionally loses seats in Congress.

And Patchwork Nation may be able to offer the president a road map of travel “dos” and “don’t bothers” in the upcoming campaign season.

The last 18 months have not been easy on the president’s approval rating — it’s down across the board in our county types — but recent Pew Research Center polling data filtered through Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types, shows there are still some places where a visit from the commander-in-chief may offer some value-added to Democrats seeking office. And there are some places he clearly should avoid.

Here’s a breakdown of how the president fared in the 2008 election compared with his latest approval ratings. Scroll over for community type:

Places to Book Presidential Hotel Rooms

Specific communities vary in their feelings about the president of course, but on the whole, there are only three county types where Mr. Obama still has juice — the big city Industrial Metropolis, the wealthy educated Monied ‘Burbs and the collegiate Campus and Careers counties. And of those three, the Industrial Metropolis locales are the only places that truly stand out. Roughly 65 percent of the people in those counties approve of how the president is handling his job.

That’s a remarkably stable number. Obama captured about 68 percent of the vote in those places in 2008. In short, if you live in an Industrial Metro don’t be surprised if Air Force One is sitting on a tarmac near you this fall.

Unfortunately for the president, no other county type is so cut-and-dried.

Campus and Career counties still give Obama a thumbs up, but not to the extent they did in the fall. The president has an approval number of about 52 percent in the Pew data from earlier this summer, but in 2008 he captured 58 percent of the vote in those places. Some of that erosion may be due to discontent on the left that the president has not met their desires.

Meanwhile, in the ‘Burbs, Obama’s approval rating is down to about 52 percent. He captured 55 percent of the vote in those 287 counties in 2008. And as we mentioned last week, the factor driving discontent there is most likely the economy.

Those places are seeing an increase in economic hardship even as the economy improves. How much of that is the president’s fault is obviously open to question, but the political impact is not. The ‘Burbs will likely be critical this fall — these densely-populated, swing-voting locales almost always are — but Democrats based in those counties may want things there to improve before sending a formal invite to the White House.

Air Force One Flyover Country

Considering the relatively hard times in the United States – a slumping economy, the war in Afghanistan and the “peace” in Iraq, the debt – many of the county types in Patchwork Nation are still really quite split on President Obama. The transitioning Boom Towns, small town Service Worker Centers and Military Bastions located near armed forces installations are all in the 47 percent to 49 percent approval range. (Poll samples from Tractor Country and Mormon Outposts were too small to be statistically relevant.)

But there are a few types of counties that President Obama is not likely to go anywhere near in the coming months.

People in the conservative Christian Evangelical Epicenters give the president an approval rating of only 30 percent. Democrats never do well in those places, however, so 2010 simply looks like more of the same there. But in other county types there are more serious problems for Obama — and presumably the Democrats.

Obama did well in Latino-heavy Immigration Nation counties in 2008. He captured 51 percent of the vote in those 210 counties. Now, though, his approval ratings there stands at about 37 percent. As immigration has heated up as an issue Obama is finding problems from people who wants laws tightened and those who want them eased.

And the aging Emptying Nest counties have soured on the president. His approval rating there is down to 43 percent after he took 49 percent of the vote there in 2008. In those places we have heard anger of health care reform, which many elderly believe will lead to cuts in programs for them.

Nothing’s Set in Stone

There are a few caveats in all this, of course. Midterm elections in particular are more prone to race-by-race dynamics. Without a national, unifying top-of-the-ticket focus, many of the 2010 races will be about local or regional issues.

And there is still time for attitudes to change. Although it is getting very late, there could still be an economic turnaround or an unforeseen factor laying out in the weeds. In 2008, the fall crash on Wall Street helped seal the deal for President Obama.