In June, I wrote a piece noting that Independents – one of President Obama’s electoral keys to the White House – appeared to be experiencing some buyers’ remorse on their 2008 vote decision.

It’s just a few months later, and less than a year since Obama took office, but it seems the American public, and especially Independents, are finding out what it is they signed up for at the ballot box last November…and they don’t like it.

Throughout the 2008 campaign, and even immediately following President Obama’s inauguration, our NBC/WSJ polls showed us Americans leaned towards the belief that “government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people” rather than the belief that “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.”

In April, this year, just about the time Independents were beginning to express some concerns, the pendulum started to swing back, and the public was evenly divided on this measure. But today, for the first time since 1997, more people are inclined to say the government is doing too many things.


After watching President Obama impose government control on the banking, housing, and auto industries, and now trying a government overhaul of the health care system perhaps it’s not surprising we’re seeing this trend back towards less government intervention.

The groups who shifted the most on this measure are men, Southerners, Westerners, babyboomers, professionals, small town/rural residents….and, you’ll never guess…yes, Independents, who moved from favoring more government intervention by two points in February (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} government should do more, 44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} government is doing too much) to a 21-point preference today for less government intervention (35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} government should do more, 56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} government is doing too much).

And, not only are Independents changing their mind on how much government intervention they want, they’re also having a change of heart about Obama. For the first time since he took office, in this month’s NBC/WSJ poll,* Independents give the president a net negative job approval rating (41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve, 46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove). They are also upside down on their approval of his handling health care reform (35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve, 53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove), his handling of the economy (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve, 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove), and barely break even on his handling of foreign policy (40{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve, 41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove).

These numbers are troubling for the president who is already faced with fissures among the Democratic Caucus. With Independents reversing course, and without the unified support of his own Base, President Obama faces a rocky road ahead. Republicans should continue to offer alternative solutions to big government and remind voters – especially Independents – that elections have consequences and there’s a chance for a mid-course correction in 2010.

*National survey of 1,005 adults conducted September 17-19, 2009
(Public Opinion Strategies partners with Peter D. Hart Research Associates to conduct the NBC/WSJ polls. Neither Peter D. Hart Research Associates nor NBC/WSJ are responsible for these conclusions.)



Public Opinion Strategies