For Obama, It’s Chiefly About Firing up His Base


As President Obama prepares for his State of the Union address, he has indicated that gun control and immigration will be two of his top priorities. His administration’s actions also indicate an ongoing commitment to place a high priority on environmental concerns. These items, though, tend to rank fairly low on voter lists of priorities.

Consider than 86 percent of voters nationwide rate job creation as most important, and 80 percent say the same about general economic concerns. Seventy-one percent believe that government spending is very important.

Where do the president’s priorities fit on that scale?

Forty-eight percent rate gun control very important; 45 percent say the same about immigration, and 35 percent rate environmental concerns that highly. In fact, out of 15 issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports, 11 are seen as higher priorities than the president’s top issues. Only the war in Afghanistan falls lower on the scale.

So why is Obama pursuing these particular initiatives? It may, of course, be due to the fact that they are important to the president himself. Freed of concerns about re-election, it may be that these are simply things he wants to get done.

Another factor may be that the president can do little in the short term to impact issues higher on the public list of priorities. While the economy is the top issue for voters, the president and his team seem to believe things are getting better and that time is on their side.

Sixty-six percent of voters consider health care issues to be very important, but that’s another place where the president’s policies have been set. Democrats tend to think the president’s plan will work, while Republicans expect it to collapse. Now it’s a matter of waiting to see how the public responds when the law goes fully into effect. Not much the president can do on that topic other than hope his team can handle the implementation well.

But beyond the president’s personal preferences and the fact that he can do little to affect other priorities in the short-term, something else appears to be at work. A hint comes from the partisan breakdown of the data.

When it comes to gun control, 71 percent of Democrats regard it as a very important issue — a view shared by only 28 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of unaffiliated voters. Democrats place a higher priority on controlling guns than on controlling spending. Other voters reverse those priorities.

Six out of 10 Democrats place a high priority on environmental issues. Fewer than one in four other voters see those issues as that important. A similar pattern is found on the question of legalizing the status of illegal immigrants.

These partisan breakdowns suggest that the president’s priorities are intended to fire up his voter base for the 2014 midterm elections. Obama is unlikely to pass significant gun control measures or environmental initiatives over the next two years. He may get something done on immigration, but that is far from a sure thing. But by focusing on the ability of Congress to block progress on these initiatives, the president may give his base strong motivation to show up for the midterm elections.

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