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Obama's Support From Pa. Independents Erodes

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Obama's Support From Pa. Independents Erodes

Obama's Support From Pa. Independents Erodes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

On this Sunday a year ago, the nation was just two days away from an election that would change history. All this week on NPR, we'll explore the pulse of the nation and take a look at how last November's election will affect the handful of races happening this week and beyond.

We start today with a look at independent voters. They gave President Obama 52 percent of their votes last fall, a margin that was crucial to his victory. And now, as the president's job approval ratings drop, so, too, has his support among independents.

NPR's Brian Naylor traveled to the Philadelphia suburbs, a key swing area last fall, to check in with those voters.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Media, Pennsylvania, sits pretty much due west of downtown Philadelphia. Streetcars roll down the main street, lined with quaint shops and restaurants. It's the seat of largely Republican Delaware County, its congressman, Democrat Joe Sestak, who defeated a Republican three years ago. The district went for Obama last year.

Dana Sigovich(ph), a clerk in a Media dress shop, is among those who voted for Mr. Obama in November. But a year later, she's disappointed in the president.

Ms. DANA SIGOVICH (Shop Clerk): He hasn't done - made change. He hasn't made much change. There blatantly has not been a big amount of change in the country that has been obvious to me, at least, or I think to a lot of American citizens.

NAYLOR: Sigovich is 19 and without health insurance. She says she is disappointed that the president hasn't yet been able to push a health care overhaul through Congress. Polls say she's not alone in her dissatisfaction. A Franklin and Marshall College poll released last week shows just 40 percent of voters in Pennsylvania approve of the president's job performance. Among independents, his approval rating is even lower.

That's a seven-percentage-point drop from the summer, according to Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall.

Dr. TERRY MADONNA (Director, Franklin and Marshall College Poll): President Obama's drop in job performance is, I think, in substantial part due to the decline in independent voters.

NAYLOR: Madonna attributes the fall in the president's approval rating to two causes: the recession and the debate over health care.

Dr. MADONNA: It is not coincidental both nationally and in Pennsylvania that the president's job performance began to drop as we engaged in this great national debate, particularly in August and September, over the nature of the health care reform that's currently underway in Congress.

Inside the Earth and State craft shop in Media, owner Andrew Arata shows off some of his wares.

Mr. ANDREW ARATA (Owner, Earth and State): Our store is primarily pottery. We focus on local artists first.

NAYLOR: Arata is another independent who voted for President Obama last year. He says he's still glad he did.

Mr. ARATA: Considering a year ago from now, I think everybody kind of - the general zeitgeist felt like we were going down the toilet, and we were in a spiral, a downward spiral. I think at least now, we feel like we've stabilized a little bit. People feel a little more positive about what's going on.

NAYLOR: While some independents believe the president isn't moving fast enough to suit them, others believe the opposite.

Mr. JOHN NIEMKIEWICZ(ph) (Retired Engineer): You know, his theme in this election was change, but a lot of people don't like change.

NAYLOR: On a Media street corner, John Niemkiewicz, a retired engineer, says he voted for McCain in the last election. He believes Mr. Obama is taking on too much.

Mr. NIEMKIEWICZ: He's going entirely too fast, too soon. This country has a tremendous inertia, and it really doesn't take much to change. You just have to tweak it one way or the other; you don't have to make mass changes.

NAYLOR: That attitude was reflected in last summer's tea party and town hall protests. It may also be reflected in other poll numbers, which show more than 40 percent of voters identifying themselves as independent, a historic high. How those voters trend a year from now is likely to determine if Democrats retain their majorities in the House and Senate in the 2010 midterm elections.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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