Denver — People like Christine Alonzo are keeping President Barack Obama afloat and giving his political team hope that he can win re-election despite high unemployment and sour attitudes about his policies and the country’s future.
Alonzo volunteered for Obama during the 2008 campaign. A few months after Obama’s victory, she lost her job. She’s still looking for work. Instead of blaming Obama for the economic crisis, she’s volunteering full time to help him capture a second term.
“It’s tough out there,” Alonzo says. But, the 43-year-old adds, “I don’t think our president’s had enough time to get us back to where we need to be.” She still likes him even though she’s not hot about the state of the country. “He’s got the intelligence, the drive, to get this country back on track.”
This is a factor any Republican challenger must consider: Public opinion polls routinely show that Americans like the president personally even though they don’t agree with his policies, even if hurt by them.
People who have lost their jobs or homes during Obama’s presidency nonetheless say they want him to succeed and, what’s more, they’re working to help re-elect him because of the affinity they feel for him.
“A lot has not been accomplished, we know that,” said Kathleen McKevitt of Jerome, Idaho, who lost her job just before Obama took office and has struggled to find full-time work. “That doesn’t mean we don’t like Obama.”
It’s a bright spot in an otherwise dreary political environment for the incumbent.
There are fears the country may fall back into a recession. The unemployment rate is stuck at a stubbornly high 9.1 percent. Foreclosures are rampant. The effect on Obama’s job-performance rating: They’ve fallen to the mid-40s, a low point.
Democrats acknowledge it could be even worse if not for the high marks Obama gets for who he is compared with the low marks for what he does.
“There are a lot of people out there who like the president, who think he is a good, decent person who is trying hard. They may have issues about the economy. They may have issues about the direction of the country. But there are a lot of voters out there who are giving him the benefit of the doubt,” said Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist in Washington. “Heading into the election year being well-liked puts him in a good position as he begins to make the contrast with the other side.”
A recent Associated Press-GfK poll showed that nearly 8 in 10 people considered Obama a likable person, and slightly more than half said he understands the problems of ordinary people. Even among those who said the United States is headed in the wrong direction, 43 percent had a favorable opinion of the president, 10 points higher than his job approval rating among that group.
Obama’s advisers point to his favorability ratings as an asset when the eventual GOP nominee tries to make the case for change in the White House in 2012.
“They’re going to tell you that everyone’s left the president, no one likes Obama anymore. They are so totally wrong,” Obama’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, told volunteers in Denver recently. “Yes, people are frustrated with the economy, with jobs. But when they look at the president, the president’s character ... they’re all in support.”