By Sean J. Miller - 10/21/10 12:58 AM EDT
A majority of voters in key battleground races say President Obama has either brought no change to Washington or has brought change for the worse.
In 10 competitive House districts, 41 percent of likely voters say Obama has brought change for the worse, and 30 percent say he has made no difference.
Strikingly, 63 percent of voters under the age of 34 said the president either has not changed Washington or has made it worse.
In 2008, voters under the age of 30 voted 2-to-1 for Obama against his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). But in The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll, only 34 percent of young people say the president has effected change for the better.
The poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland and surveyed 4,276 voters in 10 House districts held by two-term Democrats. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.5 percent.
“All change is not good change, and the voters are expressing overall dissatisfaction with the direction of change so far,” said pollster Mark Penn of the findings.
Some observers say Obama set a trap for himself by promising too much. “The stronger the pledge to make change, the greater the subsequent disillusionment,” said Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University. “It’s a common theme and a common trap.”
"Obama over-promised and under-delivered," said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist and former adviser to President George W. Bush. "And now voters are looking to Republicans for change."
The results for voters under 34 stand out, according to some observers.
"When you get in the young-voter range, it is problematic," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who directs the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "This is the first, first time they've fallen in love, and their disillusionment is much, much greater."
Acknowledging people's frustrations with the pace of change may make the president’s message more effective, she said.
"Given what we know about public sentiment, he's got to start there," Hall Jamieson said. "The question is, can they sell that [Republican] alternative as a worse option?"
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But it is clear that the administration recognizes that the president and his party have a problem in voters’ disappointment with lack of change. In speeches this fall, the president has sought to assuage younger voters’ disappointment about the “pace of change.”
“We’re not just advocating change. We’re not just calling for change. We’re doing the hard work of change — we’re grinding it out,” Obama said at a rally on the Ohio State University campus last Sunday.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating. We’re delivering change inch by inch, day by day. It’s not easy. Believe me, I know it’s not easy,” he said during this event, his first with first lady Michelle Obama. “I know it gets discouraging sometimes. But don’t let anybody tell you this fight isn’t worth it. Don’t let them tell you you’re not making a difference.”
It’s a point Obama has sought to drive home in appearances before young crowds. During a speech to a Democratic National Committee rally at George Washington University on Oct. 12, he told students not to give up on him and the Democrats.
“We’re not where we need to be yet. And this election is going to help determine whether we can continue on this path so that America finally takes on these tough challenges, we finally start making sure that the American Dream works for everybody and not just some, and that we’re able to compete on a global stage that is more competitive than it has been at any time in my lifetime — and I’m a lot older than a bunch of you guys,” Obama said.
Obama isn’t limiting that message to young voters. He’s also telling his major donors not to be discouraged. The Hill’s survey found that among voters between the ages of 35 and 54, only a quarter said he’s changed Washington for the better. Meanwhile, 40 percent said he’d changed it for the worse, and 34 percent said he hadn’t changed it all.
“People are frustrated with the pace of change, and so am I,” Obama said on Sept. 22 at a party fundraiser in New York City. “But I’m also here to tell you this: We cannot lose heart. We cannot give up.”
Baker said the president will need some significant achievement that resonates in people’s lives in order to lessen supporters’ disappointment. And that’s hard to do in Washington.
“It’s a very, very big boulder to push,” he said. “It’s something that cannot be done in a four-year presidential term, to say nothing of the first two years.”