What good are the Democrats?

TnrCover_2-18-10That’s the question in big, bold letters on the cover the new New Republic. What TNR’s editors mean by that is what a lot of liberal writers have been saying since the morning after Scott Brown became the 41st Republican in the Senate. Does Barack Obama have the guts to get health care passed, or is he just another Democrat who gets scared and runs to the center when the GOP scores an occasional victory?

What’s unusual about the editorial in TNR is that it’s thoroughly contradicted by an article several pages further back in the magazine. Predictably, Republicans have described the Brown-Coakley election as a referendum on healthcare, whereas Democrats have disagreed. Yet this time around, the very liberal John Judis marshals an extensive amount of polling data to show that Massachusetts were, in fact, saying ‘no’ to ObamaCare. Judis never says so explicitly — perhaps anticipating a ferocious reaction from fellow pundits on the left — but his message is clearly that going forward on healthcare as if nothing happened would be political suicide.

While the party loyalists can blame Martha Coakley’s defeat on her ignorance of Red Sox baseball, it was clearly a message to the president and his party…

In fact, the percent of 2008 Obama voters who were backing Brown almost perfectly matched the percentage who were dissatisfied with Obama’s health care plan, which Brown himself singled out for criticism in his campaign. According to the Rasmussen exit sample, 52 percent of Brown voters rated health care as their top issue–a clear indication that they were viewing the election in national and not merely state terms…

The Suffolk University poll in Massachusetts, which like the PPP poll, was pretty much on target in the final result, singled out two white working-class towns, Gardner and Fitchburg, as bellwethers. Obama won Gardner, where Democrats hold a three-to-one registrations edge, by 59 percent to 31 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 56 percent to 42 percent. Obama won Fitchburg, with a similar Democratic edge, by 60 percent to 38 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 59 percent to 40 percent. That suggests a fairly dramatic shift among white working class voters.

There is no similar city or county gauge for how seniors voted in the final result, but there were prior polls. The Suffolk poll taken January 14 has some clues. The age group that most strongly favored Brown was sixty-five to seventy-four-year-olds by 58 to 38 percent. The same group opposed national health insurance by 48 percent to 28 percent and thought the federal government couldn’t afford such a plan by 66 percent to 33 percent. This age group also included the highest percentage of voters–41 percent–who said they “strongly opposed” Obama’s plan. And they were the one group (albeit narrowly) who disapproved of the job Obama was doing as president–by 45 percent to 44 percent.

If you look at national polls, Obama has suffered the greatest loss of approval among exactly the same groups. In the Pew polls, Obama suffered a drastic drop in support in the $30,000-$75,000 income group, from 63 percent to 17 percent approval in February 2009, to 53 percent to 35 percent disapproval in the January 14 poll. Among respondents over sixty-five years old, he went from 60 percent to 17 percent approval to 54 percent to 31 percent disapproval. In its January 2010 poll, Pew has a breakdown by race that is even more disturbing. Whites with some or no college–a rough designation for working-class whites–disapprove of Obama’s presidency by 54 percent to 36 percent.

The President and the Democrats in Congress probably didn’t know all those numbers when they began their flight from healthcare the morning after Brown’s election. But they seem to have gotten the message.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly