"Never met a wilderness she did like."
By Clarence Lusane
The White House must draw the right conclusions from recent dismal polls.
President Obama's popularity is at its lowest point since taking office. A Gallup poll has him at a 41 percent approval rating. Although other polls have him closer to 45 percent, none is encouraging.
The polls demonstrate that much of the disapproval is coming from segments of the voters who will not support Obama under any circumstances. The voters who are feeling no love for Obama are older, less educated, higher income, more religious -- and more white. Among whites, he has only a 39 percent approval rating.
There may not be much Obama can do about this constituency.
What the Obama team really needs to worry about -- ignored by most analysts -- is the drop in support from black and Latino voters. Although his support among blacks is still in the stratosphere, and although it is a bit above 50 percent among Latinos, the trends are all in the wrong direction.
In January 2010, he had a 92 percent approval rating from blacks; now it's 85 percent. Back then, Latinos gave him a 65 percent approval rating; now it's 54 percent. Even more ominous, in January 2009, Latinos gave Obama a 73 percent approval rating.
Given the configuration of Obama's 2008 win, he absolutely must have every black and Latino vote he can garner. He will not only need over 90 percent of the black vote and perhaps 70 percent of the Latino vote; he will also need an extremely high turnout from both.
Weakening black support is being driven by a number of factors, some practical, others more philosophical. At over 15 percent, black unemployment is nearly twice that of whites and Asians, and it is not falling the way it is for these other groups.
The recession is having a disproportionately negative impact on people of color. As a new report by the Center for Social Inclusion notes, referring to blacks and Latinos, "The recession is not over -- it is just hitting its stride."
Lack of an immigration policy, failure to pass the DREAM Act and sky high deportations have moved some Latinos away from the administration, though it is hard to imagine that the anti-immigrant Republicans will end up receiving strong support from them.
At a more general level, there is a palatable frustration that the Obama administration has run away from race issues. The persistent disparities that exist regarding access to health care and quality education, and the ongoing discrimination within our criminal justice system, gnaw at blacks and Latinos.
Obama has refused to embrace any race-specific policies to address these inequities, even though only a sharp focus on these issues will begin to resolve them.
As a result, Obama's appeal is perceived by a growing number of blacks as largely symbolic. And his main argument seems to be, "I'm better than the Republicans."
That may not enough to inspire the turnout he needs from blacks and Latinos.
Clarence Lusane, Ph.D., is the program director/associate professor of comparative and regional studies in the School of International Service at American University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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