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National Politics|By Amy Walter, October 29, 2014

One of the outstanding questions left in this election is whether the Democrats' ground operation – an operation that has proven to be far superior to that of Republicans in recent years - will be enough to help their candidates squeak out narrow victories. Thus far, Democratic incumbents have done a pretty amazing job in dramatically outperforming the president’s standing in the polls. The question now is whether the Obama drag will simply be too much for even the sturdiest of Democratic candidates to overcome.

One way to look at how serious of a burden the president is on Democrats – even those in traditionally blue and purple states – is to compare his job approval ratings today with those at this same point in 2012. What stands out the most – and what’s the most perilous for Democrats in 2014 – is how soured the so-called Obama coalition is on the Democratic president.

In the charts listed below, I’ve compiled data from the most recent NBC News/Marist polls from Iowa, Colorado, and North Carolina and compared it to data from 2012 NBC News/Marist polls in those three states. What you see, of course, is a president whose approval ratings have sagged dramatically, even among those who were solidly supportive of him two years ago.

In Iowa, Obama’s job approval rating among women has taken a 23-point swing from a net positive of 14 points (54/40) to a net negative of 13 points (40/53). In Colorado, Latinos have significantly soured on Obama. At this point in 2012, Latino’s approved of the job Obama was doing 64 percent to 32 percent disapprove. Today, it’s an anemic 51 percent approve/42 percent disapprove. And, in North Carolina, Obama’s approval ratings among younger voters (18-29 years old), went from +50 (70 percent approve to 20 percent disapprove) to -4 (40 percent approve to 44 percent disapprove).

The good news for Democrats is that they are still winning among these key demographic groups. In Iowa, for example, while Obama’s approval ratings among unmarried women are underwater (44/48), Iowa Democratic Senate nominee Bruce Braley leads Republican Joni Ernst among this critical demographic by 28-points (60 percent to 32 percent). However, the question remains as to whether Democrats will get the margins of victory they need from voters who are decidedly dourer about the president than they were two years earlier.

Sasha Issenberg, author of the definitive book on the role of data analytics in campaigns, looked at the data behind the ground game in seven Democratic-held states, including Iowa, North Carolina, and Colorado. In this must-read piece in Bloomberg Politics, Issenberg writes, "Looking at these seven states, it becomes clear how much of the burden of campaigning is on Democrats, a function of both the time and the space in which the 2014 midterms take place. With a higher base in every state covered here other than Louisiana, Republicans simply have less work to do to get to their win number. And historically, the Democrats have had a much more difficult time turning out their base in midterm elections than have Republicans. Republicans generally start their efforts to woo persuadable voters—who are, overwhelmingly, and as is now nearly always the case, slightly older whites—from a stronger position, too. Barack Obama’s broad unpopularity has become a drag on Democrats’ efforts to persuade."

In other words, it’s one thing to be able to turn out Latino voters when the president has a 64 percent approval rating with these voters. It’s another to try and motivate them when the president is at 51 percent.

IowaObama Approve ‘14Obama Approve ‘12Braley vs. Ernst
Overall36/57 (-21)48/46 (+2)46/49 (D-3)
Dem79/15 (+64)92/6 (+86)89/9 (D+80)
Ind.28/62 (-34)44/45 (-1)41/49 (D-8)
Women40/53 (-13)54/40 (+14)49/44 (D+5)
Make < $75K38/56 (-18)51/44 (+7)49/45 (D+4)
Not Married42/49 (-7)58/34 (+24)56/37 (D+19)
18-2933/49 (-16)58/32 (+26)58/34 (D+24)
Unmarried women44/48 (-4)n/a60/32 (D+28)


ColoradoObama Approve ‘14Obama Approve ‘12Udall vs. Gardner
Overall40/54 (-14)48/49 (-1)45/46 (D-1)
Dem85/12 (+73)92/6 (+86)90/5 (D+85)
Ind.36/57 (-21)44/45 (-1)44/41 (D+3)
Women44/50 (-6)54/40 (+14)51/40 (D+11)
Make <$75K40/56 (-16)51/44 (+7)46/45 (D+1)
Not married44/41 (+3)58/34 (+24)51/40 (D+11)
18-2943/44 (-1)58/32 (+26)39/48 (D-9)
Unmarried Women50/45 (+5)n/a59/34 (D+25)
Latino51/42 (+9)64/32 (+32)48/44 (D+4)


North CarolinaObama Approve ‘14Obama Approve ’12 (RVs)Hagan vs. Tillis
Overall40/55 (-15)47/4743/43
Dem82/13 (+69)88/9 (+79)87/4 (D+83)
Ind.26/65 (-39)39/50 (-11)31/41 (D-10)
Women44/51 (-7)52/43 (+9)48/38 (D+10)
Make < $75K42/53 (-11)50/43 (+7)46/39 (D+7)
Unmarried women55/38 (+17)n/a57/28 (D+29)
Not married49/44 (+5)60/34 (+26)53/34 (D+19)
18-2940/44 (-4)70/20 (+50)55/35 (D+23)
African-American89/7 (+82)94/3 (+91)82/7 (D+75)
White25/70 (-45)32/62 (-30)31/55 (D-24)

- All 2014 polls conducted 10/18-22/2014
- Iowa 2012 poll conducted 10/28-29/2012
- Colorado 2012 poll conducted 10/23-24/2012
- North Carolina poll conducted 9/27-25/2012