One of the benefits of working in the political business is that you get to see lots of polling. It doesn't always teach you new things -- it usually just confirms nagging suspicions. But once in a while a statistic leaps off the page and demands to be noticed. One that keeps doing that to me in Westchester polling leads me to believe that President Barack Obama may be in deep trouble.
In an April survey from Siena College, Obama had a 52-47 favorability rating among Westchester voters. With Jewish voters in the county, he was underwater, at 47 favorable to 49 unfavorable. Several subsequent surveys suggest that the president's numbers have slipped in Westchester since that poll was taken.
The Jewish number is most stunning. It's a bellwether that bodes badly for the president. I knew from the surprise win of Rep. Bob Turner (R-Far Rockaway) in Queens and Brooklyn last year that a lot of Jewish voters were upset with Obama's stance toward Israel. But I assumed that the most deeply held animosity against his policies were felt by Orthodox Jews, who make up a large portion of the Turner district. Yet here in Westchester -- where the proportion of Orthodox, while substantial, is not nearly so large -- it is clear that the president has a significant problem with all Jewish voters, who have been among the most traditionally loyal Democratic voters in America, just six months out from the election.
Obama fever swept through Westchester in 2008. I remember it all too well. I was helping a friend, then Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld, run for the State Senate. She ran a beautiful campaign, but the effort felt like a futile sprint into a gale force wind. Republicans were dead on arrival at most polling places. Obama won the county with a 64 percent plurality and helped carry along most of the Democrats running in his wake -- including the incumbent, Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Mamaroneck), Feld was challenging.
We didn't need to look at polling numbers to know we were going to lose that race. We just had to look on the bumpers of cars passing by our headquarters. Obama stickers seemed to occupy half of them. The other half were bare. I joked with my wife that year that Subaru dealers were offering a no-Obama-sticker option on the 2008 Forester.
Obama isn't supposed to be having a problem in counties like Westchester this close to the election. Yes, Republicans have made inroads in the county since County Executive Rob Astorino (a client) won a surprise victory in 2009 -- but Democrats still enjoy a significant registration advantage. Yet the president is treading water here. And if he's treading water in Westchester County, N.Y., how will he do in West Chester, Pa. or West Chester, Ohio -- places that will actually matter on Nov. 6?
New York is not a swing state and it will not be seriously contested. At the end of the day, Westchester will almost assuredly give its vote to Obama by a small margin. But the fact that liberal bastions within the state could reasonably be put into play demonstrates just how tentative the president's re-election chances are nationwide.
And about the bumper stickers -- where are they this year? There aren't a lot of Romney ones out there, sure, but neither are there many Obama 2012 decals. Their absence is the kind of thing that fosters nagging suspicions -- suspicions that polling is backing up.