President Obama's had a rough summer, from his weak performance in the debt ceiling debate to the daily deluge of bad economic news. Polls show his approval numbers falling. Today, his overall approval number (in the latest Gallup Poll) is a meager 40 percent. That's a ten-point drop since Memorial Day.
Here's another bit of bad news for the President: Gallup reports the President's support among women—a key voting group for any election—has dropped 11 percent in the last three months. Today only 41 percent of women say “they approve of how the President is handling his job.” President Obama won 56 percent of women's votes in 2008. He'll likely need similar margins to prevail next November.
What's driving women's erosion of faith in the President? Women—like men—are foremost concerned about the economy, of course. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, and there's a growing sense that political leaders have run out of ideas. Rather than optimism that true recovery and a rebounding job market are around the corner, Americans worry that their jobs will be cut next. In fact, Gallup found that three-in-ten Americans worry about potential job loss—that's back to a two-year high.
Women aren't only concerned about their own jobs. Married women worry about their husbands' careers, and mothers worry about their children's future prospects. Eighteen percent youth unemployment means that millions of moms who thought their teenagers would earn pocket money and valuable on-the-job experience this summer, instead watched them whittle away their time at home. Families that sacrificed to send eighteen-year-olds off to college expected them to live independently and start careers after graduation. Instead, those college grads reclaimed their childhood bedrooms and hit the unemployment lines.
Yet I suspect that women's growing dissatisfaction with the President goes beyond just economic anxiety. Women also value fairness. And while the President pays lip service to taking a “balanced” approach and “shared sacrifice,” many women may sense a fundamental unfairness in how Washington has been operating.
The American people overwhelmingly objected to the health care law that was pushed through Congress in 2009. Today, people don't know what the new law will mean for them: Will their employer drop their insurance policy? Will their health care costs go up or down? But Americans do know that some well-connected entities—big unions, the AARP, major companies—have gotten waivers exempting them from the pernicious aspects of the law.
People wonder: Who decides who gets those waivers? And where do regular folks have to go to get a waiver of their own?
The bailouts and job packages also seem like politics at their worst. It’s not just Wall Street banks soaking in billions of taxpayer dollars, but state governments' raking in federal cash to shield over-paid, unionized, public sector workers from the recession's effects. So-called “Green jobs” programs receive billions and must enrich someone—but they sure haven't helped bring down energy costs for normal families. Women hear of housing programs that may provide relief for some under-water homeowners. But who is being helped? Who qualifies for such programs? And who is paying for the cost of this help?
Together, there's a sense that instead of helping those who work hard and live by the rules, Washington is in the business of changing the rules to help a few favored friends.
Women who have watched government officials target children's lemonade stands across the country this summer are likely wondering about policymakers' priorities. Have they lost touch completely with what's good about this country—with the entrepreneurial idea that we've traditionally fostered in our eight-year-olds as they paint brightly-colored signs and sell Minute Maid for a quarter? Is that why there are almost daily stories about new government efforts to regulate and stymie private enterprise?
The President will make another speech this week. He has a big challenge in winning back women. Women rarely appreciate buck-passing. If he offers more of the same – the same anger toward Congress, the same big-government programs that we've heard about before, and that seem to always devolve into a debt-increasing payoff for some politically connected constituency—expect women to shrug and change the channel. And then expect many women who supported the President in 2008 to look elsewhere next November.