Is it panic time at Obama headquarters in Chicago? You might get that impression from watching events — and the polls — over the past few weeks.
In matchups against Mitt Romney, the president is leading by only 47 to 45 percent in the realclearpolitics.com average of recent polls. A CBS/New York Times panelback poll, in which interviewers call back respondents to a previous survey, showed Romney leading 46 to 43 percent — and leading among women.
That’s despite the Democrats’ charge that Republicans are waging a “war on women” by opposing requirements that all health insurance policies provide free contraceptives. Evidently that’s not the only issue on the minds of American women.
Or consider the clumsiness of Obama’s announcement a week ago that after “evolving” he is now in favor of same-sex marriage.
This was clearly not rolled out according to some long-term plan. On Sunday, May 6, Joe Biden told “Meet the Press” that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. On Monday, press secretary Jay Carney was so battered with questions about the issue that he cancelled the daily press briefing for Tuesday.
Then, at a hastily arranged interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Obama announced his switch.
As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I am glad that Obama took the step that Dick Cheney took several years ago. Like many Americans, he changed his mind at some point and supported a policy that almost no one backed a quarter-century ago.
Recent polls report that about half of Americans now back same-sex marriage. True, voters in North Carolina on Tuesday voted to ban same-sex marriage by a 61 to 39 percent margin. But only a few years ago, any political pro would have been astonished to see the issue get 39 percent support in a state where 44 percent of voters are white evangelical Protestants.
And some same-sex marriage supporters may be grumbling that even more would have done so if Obama had made his announcement one day before the vote rather than one day after.
Obama was facing a tough political choice on the issue. He needs two groups of voters who often don’t turn out in large numbers to do so this fall: blacks and young voters. Young Americans tend to favor same-sex marriage by wide margins. Black Americans have tended to oppose it by wide margins (though not as wide this month in North Carolina, it seems, as in California in 2008, where 70 percent voted against it).
By saying he was still against same-sex marriage but was “evolving” on the issue, Obama sought to avoid riling black voters while giving a wink to young voters hinting he shared their view.
He was in the position of the old-time pol who said, “Some of my friends are for the bill, and some of my friends are against the bill, and I’m always with my friends.”
Particularly the friends with money. The Washington Post reported that one of out six Obama “bundlers,” people who bring in large amounts of campaign dollars, identify themselves as gay.
Probably not all of them consider same-sex marriage a top-priority issue. But many undoubtedly do, and Obama has surely heard from them at the fundraisers he so frequently attends.
On another issue, Obama sided with rich liberal contributors by blocking construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring Canadian oil to the United States. He did so even though energy is a big issue and large majorities of voters favor the pipeline.
On same-sex marriage, the political calculation is closer. For one thing, it’s a low-priority issue for most voters.
I think Obama’s switch will help him significantly with young voters. And he has been doing conference calls with black ministers to mollify them in the hope they’ll turn out their followers despite his stand.
But Gallup reports that 26 percent of voters say they’re less likely to vote for him because of this issue, exactly twice the 13 percent who say they’re more likely to do so.
And the CBS/New York Times panelback showed 67 percent saying he made his decision “mostly for political reasons,” while only 24 percent say he did so “mostly because he thinks it is right.”
That’s a harshly negative result. It suggests that most voters see the president, on this issue at least, as opportunistic rather than sincere. That’s good reason for panic.
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