Patchwork Nation: Obama Approval Ratings Vary Across Communities


One thing seems clear from a look at President Obama’s approval ratings: He is not as popular in April 2010 as he was in April 2009. Much of that is to be expected, of course: The presidential honeymoon often doesn’t last that long.

But when you examine the approval numbers through Patchwork Nation‘s 12 community types, they look quite different. In some places, the numbers are close to those he drew in the 2008 presidential race. In others, there has been a noticeable decline.

That has special meaning in this midterm election year. Continued declines in places that lean Republican but are fairly divided could mean some sizable losses for the Democratic Party in November’s elections.

The better news for Mr. Obama and the Democrats, however, is that the president is holding his own in many wealthy and suburban areas that are full of swing voters.

Differing views

To obtain Obama’s approval numbers in Patchwork Nation’s 12 community types, we analyzed March survey data from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The results seem to follow a few rules.

For the most part, places that were strongly behind Obama in 2008 are still very supportive. But places where the vote was more divided – and where unemployment has hit hard – have soured on the president.

For instance, in 2008, Obama won a big 69 percent of the vote in the big-city “Industrial Metropolis” counties. In the latest Pew survey, the share of “Industrial Metro” residents who approve of his performance is just slightly less: 67 percent.

A similar thing happened in the collegiate “Campus and Careers” counties. In 2008, Obama won close to 60 percent of their vote. According the Pew poll, 57 percent still approve of the president.

And in the largely suburban, vote-splitting “Monied ‘Burbs,” Obama captured 55 percent of the vote in 2008. Now, he receives positive marks from 52 percent of “Monied ‘Burb” residents.

One reason that Obama won in 2008: He got his vote out – and won over other voters – in places that usually lean Republican. But in these places now, Obama’s approval numbers have dropped.

Take the aging “Emptying Nests.” In 2008, Obama and Sen. John McCain each captured 49.2 percent of the vote there. But in the latest Pew poll, only 33 percent of “Emptying Nest” residents approve of the president’s performance.

Likewise, in the small-town “Service Worker Centers,” Obama did well to capture 47 percent of the vote. Now, only 38 percent in those counties say they approve of the president’s performance.

The “Emptying Nests” and “Service Worker Centers” share some traits. They have high unemployment – about 10 percent in the “Nests” and more than 12 percent in the “Centers” – and both scored fairly high in Patchwork Nation’s Economic Hardship Index last month. Also, neither is especially wealthy: The “Emptying Nests” are just above the median household income for the average US county, and the “Service Worker Centers” are below it.

In other words, these two community types are economically vulnerable.

The 2010 meaning?

These numbers may hold a couple of meanings for the coming midterms.

The big “Industrial Metros” and collegiate “Campus and Careers” are scattered across the United States and are always heavily Democratic.

But the “Emptying Nests” and “Service Worker Centers” tend to be located in the industrial Midwest. The “Centers” also play a big role in the Northeast, while the “Nests” do so in Florida. The GOP might look to pick up seats in those areas.

Yet the relatively good numbers for Obama in the “Monied ‘Burbs” may help the Democrats hold on to some seats in big metro areas.

It’s also worth noting that there is time for these numbers to change. In fact, the Pew survey was taken before final passage of Obama’s healthcare reform bill, which could change opinions. But these March numbers offer a base line for the campaign that is just beginning.

*This entry is cross-posted from the Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation site. *