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Obama Needs To Pick Up Approval Rating, For Senate Democrats' Sake


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. The White House Correspondents Association dinner gives the president the chance to cut loose and tell some self-deprecating jokes.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don't really want me campaigning with them. And I don't think that's true, although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day and she invited Bill Clinton.


RATH: But NPR's Mara Liasson says the president's low approval ratings aren't so funny for Senate Democrats who are facing some tough races this fall.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The president isn't as unpopular as George W. Bush was at this point in his presidency. And there are a couple polls out that show him either in the low 40s; that's the Washington Post-ABC. Or in the mid-40s; that's the NBC-Wall Street Journal. But the White House's goal has been to try to get him up to the high 40s. That's where he needs to be.

And don't forget, in the states where these Senate races are being held - the battleground - we have a lot of red states, incumbent Senate Democrats running in states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina. These are states that the president lost last time. And he's in the 30s, his approval rating is in the 30s in those states. So, yes, the Senate hangs in the balance and the president's low approval ratings is not helping.

RATH: So if they're wanting to drive those ratings back up, I guess they need to understand what's driving them down. What are the factors?

LIASSON: First of all, there's nothing happening on Capitol Hill. The president isn't pushing through his agenda. He's having no legislative successes. Also there are a lot of events outside of his control. You've got the botched Obamacare website. That - he took a terrible hit on that. You have the situation in Ukraine. And the economy is in a very anemic recovery.

RATH: You mentioned Ukraine. The president's approval numbers for the handling of that are also pretty low, I think at 34 percent. At the end of his Asia trip he delivered a speech defending his foreign policy really vigorously. But is that even going to be an issue, do you think, in the midterms?

LIASSON: I don't think foreign policy will be an issue in any of these Senate races. However, it does drag down the president's approval rating, and that means that he is less of a help, and even a hindrance in some cases, to these embattled Senate Democrats.

RATH: President Obama rolled into office on a wave of support from young voters. Now there's a poll of America's 18 to 29-year-olds by the Harvard Institute of Politics showing just one in four young Americans saying they'll go to the polls. Is this another problem for the Democrats

LIASSON: Turnout is a huge problem, and here is the Democrats excruciating dilemma. They have created a mighty electoral coalition of young people, minorities and women, particularly single women, that turn out in presidential years and has given Democrats a tremendous advantage. That coalition pretty much evaporates in a midterm election. They just don't vote. They've got to get their previously reliable voters to show up in an election where most young people, a lot of minorities, single women just aren't paying attention.

The Republican coalition in midterms - older, whiter, more stable, more married, less secular - they have a history of showing up in midterms.

RATH: And you mentioned women who had played a big part in giving the president the edge in both the presidential elections. I know you've been doing some reporting on women voters. Is there a turnout issue there as well?

LIASSON: There's a huge turnout issue there. All this week, NPR's going to be running a series called She Votes. We're going to be looking at the role of women in the 2014 elections. I'm starting it out on Morning Edition on Monday with a look at single women, unmarried women. Barack Obama won women in the 2012 election because he won single women. Mitt Romney won married women by seven points but Barack Obama won unmarried women by 36 points. It's a huge advantage.

We're also going to have pieces next week on Republican outreach to women, women's governing style. It's a great series all about women who are, after all, 53 percent of the American electorate.

RATH: Very interesting. NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.