How Much Trouble Does Obama Face In 2012?

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JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 16, 2011

How Much Trouble Does Obama Face In 2012?

Here's Jay Cost's latest Weekly Standard column about why Republicans are winning:

The president can visit as many green companies as he likes. His team can put out as many strategy videos as it likes. It can organize its ground game in Virginia all day and all night. None of this is going to change the fundamentals of this upcoming election, which are:

1. The economy is substantially weaker for Obama than for other previous presidents who won reelection.

2. The deficit is now substantially higher than before.

3. His major domestic reform--Obamacare--is substantially more unpopular.

4. The American people are substantially more pessimistic.

That's the state of the nation at this point. Nothing the Obama campaign can do at this point will affect any of these fundamentals--the hope is that its efforts will alter the public's perceptions of these fundamentals, but it won't. If we've learned anything in the last 50 years of the modern campaign, it's that the billion dollar efforts of campaign technocrats, who now dominate our politics, cannot convince people that the sun rises in the west. 

So, when we peel back the spin, the boasting, and the partisan hyperbole, we get the following: The president is going to need real improvement on at least one of those four items, or he is going to lose next year, and the race will be over before midnight on the East Coast.

Okay, so Cost argues that Obama needs major improvement in the fundamentals or else he's going to lose badly. Funny enough, there was an NBC poll last night testing various matchups:

Obama’s job-approval rating in the poll sits at 49 percent who approve to 46 percent who disapprove, which is down from 52 percent to 41 percent after Osama bin Laden was killed in early May.

In addition, he leads Romney — the early GOP front-runner — by six points in a hypothetical general-election match up, 49 percent to 43 percent. And he’s ahead of Pawlenty by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent.

Huh. That seems to suggest that Obama is... winning. Indeed, it shows just the opposite of what Cost argues. And what about the terrible economy? Well, the poll says more about that, too:

Hart, the Democratic pollster, cites three reasons why Obama is staying afloat. One is his personal popularity, with this poll showing him with a 49 percent to 37 percent favorable/unfavorable rating. (That’s compared with 27 percent to 26 percent for Romney, 14 percent to 15 percent for Pawlenty, 24 percent to 54 percent for Palin and a record-setting 16 percent to 48 percent for former House Speaker Gingrich.)

According to Hart, a second advantage is Congress, whose approval rating in the poll is a dismal 18 percent.

A third reason is that the American public isn’t blaming Obama for the current economy, with more than six in 10 respondents still saying he inherited the country’s economic problems from his Oval Office predecessor.

Also, while a combined 47 percent believe George W. Bush and his administration are “solely responsible” or “mainly responsible” for the current economy, just 34 percent in the poll say the same of Obama and his administration.

So, the public likes Obama and blames the bad economy more on Bush.

Now, to be sure, none of this suggests that Obama is a shoo-in. His popularity seems to defy political gravity, allowing him to levitate above economic conditions that would sink most presidents. His political skills and the continued unpopularity of the Republican Party seems to keep him ahead of the competition. But it's entirely possible that 16 months from now, people will assign him more blame for economic conditions, or that the economy will worsen.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that at the moment, Obama does not need "real improvement." He needs to avoid deterioration.

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posted in: jonathan chait, weekly standard, bin laden, george w. bush, jay cost, east coast, republican party, virginia

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