Posted: Aug 15, 2010 10:10 PM by Chris Welty
Updated: Aug 15, 2010 10:10 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) - Independents who embraced President Barack
Obama's call for change in 2008 are ready for a shift again, and
that's worrisome news for Democrats.
Only 32 percent of those citing no allegiance to either major
party say they want Democrats to keep control of Congress in this
November's elections, according to combined results of recent
Associated Press-GfK polls. That's way down from the 52 percent of
independents who backed Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain two
years ago, and the 49 percent to 41 percent edge by which they
preferred Democratic candidates for the House in that election,
according to exit polls of voters.
Independents voice especially strong concerns about the economy,
with 9 in 10 calling it a top problem and no other issue coming
close, the analysis of the AP-GfK polls shows. While Democrats and
Republicans rank the economy the No. 1 problem in similar numbers,
they are nearly as worried about their No. 2 issues, health care
for Democrats and terrorism for Republicans.
Ominously for Democrats, independents trust Republicans more on
the economy by a modest but telling 42 percent to 36 percent.
That's bad news for the party that controls the White House and
Congress at a time of near 10 percent unemployment and the slow
"People are just struggling, they need a job but there's
nowhere to get a job," said independent Leilani Buxman, 55, of
Greeley, Colo. Of Obama, she said, "It seems like he talks but he
doesn't do anything about it."
Both parties court independents for obvious reasons. Besides
their sheer number - 4 in 10 describe themselves as independents in
combined AP-GfK polling for April, May and June - they are a
crucial swing group.
To try winning them over, Republicans say they will contrast
Obama's campaign promises of change with the huge spending programs
he's approved. Democrats say they will warn independents that a GOP
victory will revive that party's efforts to cut taxes for the rich
and transform Social Security into risky private investment
Targeting independents is tricky, though, because the makeup of
independents evolves over time.
Their numbers have swollen from 3 in 10 two years ago, due
partly to the weakened political loyalties that typify years
without presidential elections. While some are conservatives
dissatisfied with Republicans, similar numbers are disillusioned
Democrats, underscoring a frustration with the party in power often
seen when the economy is bad.
Reflecting these conflicting dynamics, today's independents are
likelier to be minorities, conservatives, less educated, lower paid
and from rural areas than they were in 2008. Sixty-seven percent
think the country is heading in the wrong direction, compared with
59 percent of all voters who think so.
"Why not stop bickering and do something. Pull together," said
Chip A. Hoeye, 54, of Fort Atkinson, Wis., an independent and Obama
voter who says he doesn't care which party controls Congress
because of their constant battling.
Independents trust Republicans far more than Democrats for
handling national security, but give Democrats a 42 percent to 36
percent edge for dealing with health care - a potential sign that
distrust over Obama's signature issue is receding.
Hope is not lost for Democrats.
The AP-GfK polls show a narrow 44 percent to 41 percent overall
preference for a Democratic Congress. The party is holding its 2008
edge among women and urban residents, and still splitting the vote
of pivotal suburbanites and people earning $50,000 to $100,000.
But less than three months from Election Day, independents
aren't the only part of Obama's 2008 coalition that shows waning
enthusiasm for a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Other groups that supported Obama but show less fervor include
young whites, unmarried women, people who live in the West, people
earning under $50,000 a year, college graduates and urban whites.
The falloff shows that Democrats have work to do with blocs the
party hoped an Obama presidency would cement into dependable
There's even erosion among minorities. While 8 in 10 voted for
Obama, fewer than two-thirds want a Democratic Congress, and 1 in 9
don't care which party controls.
Democrats are also losing further ground with GOP-leaning groups
such as white men, married men and people earning over $100,000 a
Ebbing support for Democrats, compared with the vote for Obama,
partly reflects that a president's popularity doesn't necessarily
help his party in Congress. It also comes as Obama's own image has
suffered: 49 percent approve of his job performance in the AP-GfK
polls, compared with 67 percent who approved in February 2009, days
after he took office.
The data from the AP-GfK polls combines surveys conducted June
9-14, May 7-11 and April 7-12 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media.
A total of 3,047 randomly chosen adults were interviewed by cell
and landline telephone. The margin of sampling error is plus or
minus 2.4 percentage points.
The exit poll for the November 2008 presidential election was
conducted by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International for
the AP and television networks in 300 precincts nationally. The
data was based on 17,836 voters, including telephone polling of
2,407 people who voted early, and has a margin of sampling error of
plus or minus 1 percentage point.