President Obama's poll numbers remain dangerously low -- but his Republican opponents aren't faring too well, either.
A New York Times-CBS News poll released Friday found that Obama's approval rating was only 43 percent and his disapproval rating was 50 percent for the first time in his presidency, largely because of his handling of the still-slumping economy. More than 50 percent of respondents expected a double-dip recession, and nearly 75 percent said they thought the country was on the wrong track.
But, even though 70 percent of Republican respondents called themselves conservative and only 25 percent called themselves moderate, conservative candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann -- and even Mitt Romney, who has faced a lot of criticism for not being conservative enough -- were out of sync with Republican and Democratic voters alike on several key issues:
1. 79 percent of voters (about 75 percent of Republicans) said Social Security and Medicare were worth the cost. Rick Perry, however, has called Social Security a Ponzi scheme and a monstrous lie, and refused to back down from those comments. And while Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann promptly attacked Perry, saying the president had a responsibility to ensure that Social Security remained solvent for future generations, both of them have made similarly disparaging remarks about the program in the past, saying that if a private-sector program were run the way Social Security is, it would be illegal.
2. 84 percent of voters (about 75 percent of Republicans) said they believed the Earth was warming. They were split on whether global warming was a result of human activity, natural processes or a combination of the two, but very few respondents questioned that it was happening. Among the presidential candidates, though, it is a different story. Back in 2008, Bachmann complained to Minnesota Public Radio about the global warming hoax. It's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax. Perry insists that the evidence of global warming is not settled, and argues, Just because you have a group of scientists who stood up and said here is the fact -- Galileo got outvoted for a spell. Romney's position is somewhat more nuanced: he has, at least, said that he believes the world is getting warmer. He backtracked recently, though, by echoing Perry's rhetoric: What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to.
3. 65 percent of voters (about 60 percent of Republicans) said marriage or civil unions should be legal for same-sex couples. But none of the main Republican candidates agree. Perry supports a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman -- an exception to his states' rights advocacy. Bachmann is careful to emphasize that she respects gays and lesbians and believes they have honor and they have dignity, but she nonetheless believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. Romney used to support at least civil unions for same-sex couples, but no longer: he, Perry and Bachmann have all signed the National Organization for Marriage's pledge to do everything in their power to oppose same-sex marriage.
4. 73 percent of voters (about 60 percent of Republicans) said abortion should remain legal, with or without more restrictions. But Perry, Romney and Bachmann have all declared their opposition to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life. Bachmann called herself 100 percent pro-life, and Perry has said more than once that he would support overturning Roe v. Wade and leaving the legality of abortion up to the states. Romney's position is a bit harder to pin down, because earlier in his career, as governor of Massachusetts, he was adamantly pro-choice. But his most recent stance was made quite clear in the pro-life pledge he published in The National Review in June, which began, I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine.
Among Republicans, about 80 percent said they wanted President Obama's health care law repealed in part or entirely, so the candidates are in line with their constituency there. Among the general electorate, though, that number was only 47 percent.
Obviously, there are many voters who oppose Social Security, gay marriage and abortion and do not believe in global warming, and they will support Bachmann, Perry and Romney for those positions. But the poll numbers show that those voters are significantly outnumbered, even among Republicans.