Yesterday's elections in the United States should in no way be considered a referendum on Barack Obama's presidency. Nor, however, should they be dismissed as having no significance: The President himself campaigned vigorously in both Virginia and New Jersey. And today it can be said that Mr. Obama proved to have no coattails.
Turnout among young people, key to his victory last year, declined by about half; more happily for the President, turnout among Blacks - another key - declined less significantly. Turnout among voters over 65, on the other hand, rose significantly in Virginia and to a lesser degree in New Jersey, and these voters went more Republican than in the presidential election.
The major change was among Independent voters - another key element of Mr. Obama's presidential victory - who voted strongly for the Republicans yesterday. This confirms recent polls showing that the President's policies - particularly health care and the deficit - are more unpopular than he is. In particular, the state of the economy helped Republicans yesterday, as the blame-George-Bush-for-everything tactic begins to wear off.
Mr. Obama's approval rating in the past quarter has declined more sharply than that of any president since Gallup began polling in the 1950s. Today, he's in 11th place at this point in the mandate among the 12 elected presidents who've been polled, standing above only Bill Clinton. What should be of most immediate concern to Mr. Obama and his advisers is that Mr. Clinton was badly bruised in the first mid-term elections of his presidency.
Looking toward to 2012, on the other hand, the results of a special congressional race in a heavily Republican district in northern New York state should be encouraging news for the President. Mr. Obama backed the victorious Democratic candidate late in the day against a right-wing Conservative endorsed by high-profile Republicans including Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. And infighting between moderates and conservatives for control of the GOP was clearly not appreciated by voters.
In Canada, this positioning on the right was the recipe for Jean Chrétien's three consecutive majority governments, and there's no reason to believe things will turn out differently in the United States if Republicans don't smarten up before the next presidential election.