The election day exit polls had some good news for Obama: voters don't blame him for "current economic problems." But the same poll also had some really bad news for him.
Voters on Tuesday were given three choices about who to blame for the great recession: Wall Street, Bush, or Obama. The largest number, as many commentators noted, blamed Wall Street: 35 percent. Second came Bush at 29 percent. Obama was last, at 23 percent. So only a few voters hold Obama responsible for "current economic problems"—that's the good news.
Here's the bad news: among those who blamed Wall Street, 56 percent voted Republican. Only 42 percent voted for a Democrat. That is a complete reversal of the historic pattern where the Republican Party has been associated with Wall Street, and hostility to Wall Street associated with Democratic voters.
Apparently a lot of voters on Tuesday believed that Obama's top priority was helping the big New York investment houses and banks, and that helping people who had lost their jobs came in a distinct second in his priorities. They weren't wrong about that.
So the fourteen-point gap in the party vote among those who blame Wall Street explains a lot about what happened last Tuesday. Voters were reacting not just to Republican propaganda tying Obama to TARP but also to some real facts: Obama made the bank bailout his first priority, and postponed financial reform for a year and a half after that.
And he decided not to fight for a bigger stimulus, not to press for a bigger program focused on job creation.
The result is that Republicans won a huge majority of the votes of those who blame "Wall Street" for the economic crisis. If unemployment eases over the next year, Obama has a chance to regain some of their support. But if it doesn't, it's hard to imagine what he could do to win back those he lost last week.