Those who backed Obama remain supportive even though they say that he has not accomplished much so far. Those who opposed him still do, but they acknowledge that he inherited some stubborn problems.
Obama's backers exhibit a dogged intensity in their support of him personally. They fervently wish for him to succeed, but some worry that he has spread himself too thin. A year ago, these voters had tremendous -- and probably unrealistically high -- hopes for the new president. They now realize that he does not have a magic wand.
The Obama critics in the focus group begrudgingly concede his intelligence, knowledge, and rhetorical abilities, but they suggest that he is more sizzle than steak and that his inexperience is showing. More than a few of these voters exhibited a bit of an "I told you so" mentality.
But although divisions over Obama remain much the same as last year, the group was united in its disgust toward official Washington and Congress. The president's partisans can take comfort from the fact that his supporters have not abandoned him even after 10 months of a tough recession; but Democratic strategists should be quite worried because the warm and fuzzy, hopeful and admiring sentiments expressed about Obama do not extend to Democrats in Congress. A "pox on both your houses" sentiment was palpable among Obama and McCain supporters.
One telling moment came after Hart asked each voter to write the name that comes to mind when they think of Congress. Bill, a 62-year-old retired automobile-industry executive and independent who backed Obama, wrote "Satan." When Hart asked why, Bill answered, "Because I wasn't sure of the correct spelling of 'Beelzebub.' " Now that's intensity.
Watching Hart conduct a focus group is like watching a maestro at work before a symphony. He pokes and prods, asking participants to explain what they mean, and probes attitudes in a way that no poll can. The Annenberg Center has been sponsoring such focus groups for 10 years. This one will air on C-SPAN soon.
The group consisted of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, with some familiarity with politics and government, and a willingness to respect each others' opinions. Their scorn for a do-nothing Congress and for the administration's bale-out of failing companies on Wall Street was very clearly palpable. And their widespread skepticism for staying any longer in Afghanistan was almost unanimous. Parenthetically, the meeting was help a couple of days before the President's Afghan strategy speech.
President Obama still has some time to get things right, but this group is impatient with the pace of the promised change. And, in their minds, Bush gets a pass and Obama now owns it all. And everyone has very high regard for the First Lady, comparing her to Jackie Kennedy.
Watch the program if you get another chance. In my opinion it is a very accurate reflection of the "Main Street" so ignored by the corporate media and self-serving leaders in Washington.