Mark Blumenthal (of Pollster.com and Mystery Pollster fame) has a column in National Journal, called "What Liberal Revolt?," arguing that President Obama does not have a problem with his liberal base. The basis for Mark's argument is that President Obama's approval rating has declined less among self-identified liberal Democrats than among any other partisan-ideological subgroup.
Mark's argument that President Obama's approval rating has declined less among liberal Democrats than among any other partisan-ideological group is correct. Looking at Gallup's tracking poll data over the past year, here are the declines in President Obama's approval rating among Gallup's partisan-ideological groups:
Obama job approval, comparing current levels to peak levels
Note: I used a four-week average in these numbers to smooth out statistical noise.
||Peak Approval Date
||Peak Approval %
||Current Approval %
||Apr 20-May 17
||Apr 27-May 24
||Apr 13-May 10
||Apr 20-May 17
However, these numbers do not necessarily prove there is no left-wing revolt against President Obama. For starters, there remains the open question of how accurately these ideological self-identification labels are in determining who is left-wing in America. Quite a few self-identified moderates might actually hold more left-wing policy positions than many self-identified liberals.
Additionally, it does not take a particularly close look at Gallup's data to see that President Obama does much better among liberals who self-identify as Democrats than among liberals who do not self-identify as Democrats (referred to as LNDs," liberal-non-Democrats" for the rest of the article):
All of that is a significant drop. President Obama's approval has dropped more among LNDs during 2009 (16%) than among any other part of the American center-left coalition. Further, this decline has happened even while the group was growing in size, taking in defectors from the liberal Democratic group.
- According to Gallup, President Obama's current approval among all self-identified liberals is 77.5%, compared to 87.0% among self-identified liberal Democrats.
- During 2009, Gallup identified 21% of the country as self-identified liberal.
- In his National Journal article, Mark Blumenthal writes that Gallup shows 15% of the country as both self-identified liberal and self-identified Democrat. This means that, according to Gallup, about 6% of the country is an LND.
- According to Gallup's data, President Obama's approval among LNDs is only 54%.
- This is down from 70% in February according to Gallup's data, when this group composed only 4% of the population (in his article, Blumenthal says that self-identified liberal Democrats composed 17% of the adult population back in February).
But wait, there's more! Consider President Obama's current approval rating among ideological groups compared to his vote percentages among ideological groups in 2008:
How has the Obama coalition changed since 2008?
Since President Obama's election, his support among liberals has dropped, his position among moderates has remained the same, and his support among conservatives has increased. From this perspective, the only people who have become disillusioned with President Obama are liberals. Everyone else who opposes him never supported him in the first place.
||2008 Obama %
||Current Approval %
Further, there is a real chance that the decline in President Obama's approval rating among LNDs will translate into a decline in real votes among LNDs. In 2008, liberals were actually the largest swing voting block. This makes any belief that the liberal voting block is static or "locked in" for Democrats both naïve and stupid.
The bottom line is that, while President Obama's approval rating remains very high among both liberals and Democrats (and particularly high among liberal Democrats), he has suffered a significant drop among LNDs (liberals who do not self-identify as Democrats). Further, his drop among this group appears to be the only loss he has suffered from his winning 2008 coalition. As such, despite this group's small percentage of the population (5-6%), this revolt is quite newsworthy and also represents one of the most significant threats to President Obama's re-election that emerged during 2009.