WASHINGTON — Eighteen days before the midterm elections, President Obama and the Democrats face an outraged electorate that is turning into a perfect political storm.
The stock market is in a nosedive, slashing worker 401(k) retirement accounts that further threaten a weak, job-challenged economy. Anemic economic data, including a decline in retail sales — which accounts for one-third of all consumer spending — has forced economists to lower their forecasts for economic growth.
If all this weren’t bad enough, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that the government added nearly $700 billion in new deficit spending to a monster national debt that now stands at $17.8 trillion.
This followed growing fears over two new Ebola cases and increasing questions about whether the administration was adequately responding to the disease’s outbreak in the U.S., or asleep at the switch. Federal health care officials were summoned to Capitol Hill to explain how two quarantine nurses could be infected by the disease and why more wasn’t being done to protect hospital personnel.
All of this is taking place at a time when the U.S. is caught up in a growing war against a far more dangerous terrorist threat that’s on the brink of entering Baghdad in Iraq, and seizing much of Syria, too.
Meanwhile, Russia shows little or no substantive signs of backing away from its continuing efforts to seize still more territory in Eastern Ukraine, whose economy was said to be “choking under Russian pressure.”
Europe’s economy is in a recession, raising additional fears here of a global economic crisis that will only further weaken an underperforming U.S. economy.
All of this is reaching critical mass as new political data shows the Democrats have fallen to their lowest point in the polls in the last 30 years.
According to a nationwide Washington Post-ABC News poll taken between Oct. 9-12, only 39 percent of respondents now have a favorable impression of the Democrats, compared to 51 percent who view them unfavorably.
Obama is at the lowest approval-ratings point of his presidency, as well. A 51 percent majority disapprove of the way he’s “handling his job as president.” Only 40 percent approve.
The Gallup Poll reported similar findings this week: Only 40 percent approved of the job he’s been doing, versus 55 percent who disapproved.
And it appears that these voters intend to demonstrate their displeasure by voting for the Republicans. Asked who they planned to vote for on Election Day, just 43 percent said the Democrats, while 50 percent said the GOP candidates.
It is almost impossible to overstate the gloom that now permeates America’s electorate and has given both Wall Street and Main Street a deeply pessimistic mood.
A “fear gauge” compiled this week by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, which charts investor apprehension, recorded one of its highest fear levels since the summer of 2012.
On the Ebola front, despite Obama’s assurances that the possibility of a serious outbreak is “extraordinarily low,” the cases of two stricken nurses in a Dallas hospital have had a rippling effect across the country and in the economy.
Lawmakers were calling for the resignation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden and for a travel ban for all nonmilitary passengers and medical personnel flying from the West African countries where the Ebola outbreak is ongoing. Airline stocks have been hit hard because of fears that passengers could be exposed to the deadly virus. About 200 airline cabin cleaners at New York’s LaGuardia Airport did not report for work last week because they said they hadn’t been given adequate protection.
The Ebola threat was serious enough for Obama to suddenly cancel a fundraising campaign trip and meet with his chief health advisers, lest it appear that he wasn’t on top of the situation.
Whether or not there are new Ebola cases, the crisis has triggered a deeper level of uncertainty in a fragile and uneven economy that is still struggling to climb out of its lethargy in the sixth year of Obama’s troubled presidency.
A decline in retail sales, a weak housing market, a still-shrinking labor force, and little or no growth in wages are bad enough. But things could get worse if the Ebola threat causes consumers to stay home more, cancel trips, avoid restaurants and movie theaters, and cut back on shopping. Then the economic angst could cause voters to turn their full fury against the party of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in the voting booth, expressing their anger in the only way they can.
The Democrats are heading into the final weeks of this election with the political cards stacked against them, and they know it.
The Post-ABC poll found that two-thirds of the voters now say the country is going in the wrong direction. And six out of 10 Americans say Obama doesn’t have a clear plan to govern.
He has similarly dismal polls on dealing with the Islamic State. Several weeks ago, the job he was doing gave him a 6 point net gain. Now, that has dropped by 16 points.
Other polls have found that a majority of the electorate thinks the GOP can do a much better job on the economy, restraining spending and balancing the budget.
Gallup’s daily economic surveys this week found that 41 percent of Americans say they’re “struggling.” Another 5 percent say they’re “suffering,” and 13 percent say they are under “stress.”
A big factor in next month’s congressional elections will be voter turnout, and this is where Republicans, who are far more motivated to vote than the Democrats, have a stronger hand to play.
“Seventy-seven percent of Republicans say they are certain to vote, compared with 63 percent of Democrats,” the Post reported Thursday.
This could be another “wave” election, a lot like the one in 2010 when the GOP took over the House and stopped Obama’s agenda dead in its tracks. Stay tuned.