African-American support for Barack Obama appears to be softening, because of a rocky economy that has hit US blacks especially hard, and a perception that the president has ignored the economic travails faced by this once rock-solid pillar of his political base.
A Gallup poll last week found Obama’s poll numbers in the African-American community down from its once stratospheric 95 percent approval early in his term, to a still-high, but notably lower 81 percent — tying his worst ever showing from earlier this year.
Observers say weaker support for Obama is the result of a faltering economy that at 16 black percent unemployment — compared to about nine percent for the population at large — has hit the African American community especially hard.
“We’re totally frustrated,” said US Representative Elijah Cummings, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, speaking Sunday on CNN television’s “State of the Union” program.
The Maryland lawmaker said his constituents in the predominantly black city of Baltimore, about 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) from the White House, want to see the Barack Obama of the 2008 presidential campaign, who sounded like a champion of progressive causes to aid the poor and downtrodden.
“When he came in, he talked about hope, he talked about jobs, he has talked about fairness, he has talked about addressing Wall Street effectively and efficiently, and trying to make a difference,” said Cummings.
“He has got to go back to those basic points. That’s what got him elected,” the lawmaker said.
“People need to know that the president feels their pain and is trying to create jobs. Jobs has got to be… number one,” said Cummings.
Black frustration with Obama may have hit new highs partly as a result of last month’s debt ceiling debate, during which many critics said Obama made too many concessions to Republicasn and their Tea Party faction.
Democratic CBC chairman Emanuel Cleaver, for one, scathingly denounced the deal concluded by Obama as a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.”
And many blacks, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, said they want to see more push-back from the president in future battles with the conservative Tea Party.
“Almost every African-American I have talked to said they want him to fight, and fight harder,” Cummings said.
Even as the president prepares next month to unveil a major jobs package, black leaders said the president has not been sufficiently proactive on the unemployment crisis.
The CBC this month launched a five-city tour this summer to reach out to the black community over its worries about joblessness and economic blight, and Cummings expressed frustration that Obama’s own jobs tour last week focused on three mostly white states in the US heartland.
One prominent member of the black lawmakers’ group, California lawmaker Maxine Waters said at a CBC jobs forum last week that African American leaders so far have refrained from publicly taking the president to task, but said that could soon change.
“We want to give the president every opportunity to show what he can do and what he’s prepared to lead on,” she said at a town hall meeting in economically depressed Detroit.
Meanwhile, two other prominent black figures, talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University Professor Cornel West, have launched a 15-city “Poverty Tour” intended to highlight what they see as Obama’s failings in dealing with the need of the poor and minorities.
Despite the criticism, Cummings said there remains overall a deep reservoir of good will toward Obama among African Americans, who are “very protective of our president” — the first person of African descent to hold the office.
“They see him as their son, as their brother, and they see us and they are very proud of him,” he said.
David Bositis, a respected analyst of African-American issues based in Washington, to The Tennessean newspaper in an interview published Sunday that the trough in Obama’s with black constituents was sure to reverse itself before the November 2012 election.
“President Obama is at a tough point right now, but African-Americans know there’s only one person trying to help African-Americans and the rest of the country get out of this mess we’re in. And it’s certainly not the Republicans,” Bositis said.