Voters seeking change may turn to GOP, poll says

As midterms loom, Obama backers waver

In their first joint campaign appearance since 2008, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, spoke to Ohio voters yesterday. In their first joint campaign appearance since 2008, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, spoke to Ohio voters yesterday. (J. Scott Applewhite/ Associated Press)
By Liz Sidoti
Associated Press / October 18, 2010

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WASHINGTON — President Obama’s winning coalition from 2008 has crumbled and his core backers are dispirited. It’s now Republicans who stand to benefit from an electorate that is again craving change.

Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.

Just half of the voters who backed Obama in 2008 say they definitely will cast a ballot Nov. 2, the poll indicated.

Yet in a reflection of broad dissatisfaction with politics, just as many people who backed Republican presidential nominee John McCain are either supporting Democrats now or still considering how to vote.

Still, McCain voters are far more “fired up, ready to go’’ — to borrow Obama’s campaign rallying cry. Two-thirds say they are certain to vote next month.

It’s a wide enthusiasm gap that’s buoying Republicans, who are poised for big electoral gains, and worrying Democrats, who are seeking to hang onto majorities in Congress as well among governors. Obama’s party hopes its superior get-out-the-vote operation, updated from his groundbreaking campaign, can overcome Republicans’ energized supporters to mitigate expected losses across the board.

Although no president can be expected to fully rally his supporters when he’s not on the ballot, the survey illustrates the wide scope of Obama voters’ disappointment with the president and his policies almost halfway through his first term — and two years before he is likely to seek their backing again.

“He’s not listening to the majority of the people who elected him. It’s like he is ignoring his base,’’ said SaraSue Crawford of Jacksonville, Fla., who points to Obama’s health care overhaul law.

Crawford is deciding whether to support Republicans in the hopes of “shaking up the status quo’’ and restoring a balance of power in Washington. She says she may back Obama in 2012 — if he changes course by listening more.

The president and his wife, Michelle, campaigned together yesterday in Ohio, they first time they have done so since the 2008 race.

They attended an event in Cleveland to support Governor Ted Strickland and raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

Their day ended in Columbus at a rally on the campus of Ohio State University aimed at firing up the young Democrats and first-time voters who helped Obama carry the state.

“When times are that difficult, elections are going to be difficult and understandably so,’’ the president said in Cleveland.

Obama has been campaigning coast to coast as the Nov. 2 midterm elections fast approach. He is trying to convince wary voters that his policies have put the nation’s economy on a path toward recovery.

Though Michelle Obama campaigned heavily for her husband during his presidential bid, she has largely stayed out of politics since moving to the White House.

Her popularity has stayed high, while the president’s has fallen, making her a valuable asset on the campaign trail.

Michelle Obama’s campaign message has echoed the president’s: that he can’t make good on the promises he made during the 2008 campaign unless voters keep Democrats in charge of the House and Senate.

Recent polls suggest Republicans may retake the House and make major gains in the Senate.

To find out how the electorate’s political views have changed since the 2008 election, the AP and Knowledge Networks revisited the same 1,254 people who were part of a random sample of Americans surveyed up to 11 times throughout the 2008 campaign by the two organizations and Yahoo News. The recent interviews occurred Sept. 17 to Oct. 7.

Disillusionment with Obama was evident.

In a reversal from 2008, the survey indicated that Obama backers who expected change in Washington — 63 percent — now think nothing ever will happen. Just 36 percent still think Obama can do it, while a majority of McCain supporters now say things can change if the right person is elected.

On the dominant issue of the 2010 campaign, just 40 percent of Obama backers who are fleeing the Democrats say he will be able to improve the economy over the next two years.