Politics
Demonstrators affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street rally in New York Demonstrators affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street rally in New York's Times Square, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)  

As poll numbers slide, Obama embraces ‘Occupy’ protests

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Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign continues to move leftward in search of enthusiastic voters, even as the public grows more worried about the economy and skeptical about his adminstration.

In a Sunday speech dedicating the new Chinese-designed memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., Obama signaled his support for progressive groups protesting in New York City and elsewhere.

That afternoon in a remark that reflected the protesters’ chosen language, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president will work to ensure the “interests of 99 percent of Americans are well represented” in government.

On Friday, Obama’s chief political adviser said his campaign would leverage the public’s anger at Wall Street to slingshot Obama — and his top Wall Street aides — back into the White House for a second term.

“We intend to make it one of the central elements of the campaign next year,” David Plouffe, Obama’s chief political advisor, said in a Washington Post interview.

That anti-capitalist emphasis is also shaping campaign officials’ criticism of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose Boston-based investment firm is already being painted as a Wall Street predator.

But these leftward moves further threaten Obama’s shrinking base of support among swing-voting professionals, who provide roughly 17 percent of the vote in elections, and a larger share of donations and social approval.

The professionals will flee even faster if the progressives’ protests spin further out of control. More than 200 protestors have already been arrested in several brawls.

Meanwhile, Republican officials have been moving since early September to trump and exploit this leftward drift by the Obama campaign. They emphasize bipartisan job-creation over deficit-reduction, and they highlight accusations of corrupt ties between Democrats and big business.

This week, for example, Romney said he was sympathetic to some of the public’s worries that the Wall Street protesters claim to be acting upon.

“I want to have a strong and vibrant and prosperous middle class,” he siad during a New Hampshire campaign stop. “And so I look at what’s happening on Wall Street and my own view is, boy I understand how those people feel …The people in this country are upset.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner released the transcript of a phone call with Obama to highlight his claim that president is campaigning and not governing.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy used the GOP’s weekend message to emphasize his party’s desire to work with Obama on job creation. “By finding ways to support small business and promote entrepreneurship, we can rev up our economy and grow the jobs we need … this shouldn’t be an exercise of partisan gamesmanship or credit-claiming,” he said.

The president’s descent into populist complaints about “the rich” is a fallback strategy for his administration. During the summer, Obama sought to woo non-ideological swing voters, even as he tried to excite Democratic voting blocs, including African-Americans, gays, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, environmentalists and progressives.

But this outreach to independents failed to work, and polls shows his support among independents falling into the 30s.

Now Obama’s efforts to harness popular anger towards Wall Street will likely make it harder for him to regain support among independents.

That’s because of many of them tend to be libertarian-minded. They support socially liberal policies, such as abortion choice, anti-pollution rules and new legal rights for gays, while also disliking taxes and big government.

These voters were once called liberal Republicans, but they shifted toward the Democratic Party once the public moved towards socially conservative policies and then-President Bill Clinton forswore tax increases.

In 1996, Clinton used his State of the Union speech to declare that “the era of big government is over.” That year, he won 54 percent of the vote among college graduates, which comprised 17 percent of voters.

In 2008, those postgrads comprised 17 percent of the electorate, and they fell hard for the post-partisan, moderate-sounding Obama. He got 58 percent of their votes, while the GOP candidate got only 40 percent, according to CNN’s exit polls.

Yet Obama’s first moves pushed this bloc over to the GOP. In 2009 the prosperous voters of Virginia’s Fairfax County and New York’s Westchester County went for the GOP, not the Democratic candidates.

Since then, Obama has made it clear that he wants to increase taxes on upper-income Americans, including many of those postgrads, many of them lawyers, doctors, consultants, architects, accountants and financial experts.

A large number of those voters donated to Obama in 2008. but they are opening their wallets for GOP candidate this time. For example, employees at the hugely unpopular firm of Goldman Sachs were among Obama’s top 2008 donors. The New York Times reports that in the current election cycle, Goldman Sachs employees have donated $45,000 to Obama and $350,000 to Romney.

Worse for Obama, an April poll showed 56 percent of white female university graduates supported him, his strongest demographic in the majority white community. But this month National Journal’s October Heartland Monitor poll showed their support for Obama has plunged below 40 percent.

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