Thursday, June 16, 2011

Catch of the Day

Jonathan Chait reads Jay Cost. Cost has half a good column about Barack Obama's reelection campaign; the first half of the column is all about how electioneering and a sophisticated campaign apparatus won't really make much difference for Obama. That's true! But then Cost basically goes off the deep end, comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter at the time of the malaise speech and concluding that Obama will need substantial improvement in one of four areas (the economy, perceptions of ACA, the deficit, and general pessimism) in order to have a chance next year.

Jonathan Chait correctly notes that for a president who is in terrible shape, Obama is oddly enough crushing all of the GOP candidates in head-to-head trial runs. Of course, it is true that most of the Republican candidates might be underperforming in those trials because they're not yet very well known. Indeed, the best way to know whether Obama is in terrible trouble right now is to turn to a perfectly available measure: his approval rating. As of yesterday, Obama was at 47% per Gallup, a tick or so higher according to Pollster's average. That's not a number that predicts a landslide reelection -- but it's also not one that indicates deep trouble. It's nothing like where Jimmy Carter was in July 1979, when he delivered the "malaise" speech -- Carter had fallen below 30% in June 1979, and stayed there fall into the fall.

As far as Cost's big four points against Obama...first of all, it's really only three; he includes a general pessimistic mood, but that's surely just a reflection of the economy, not a separate factor on its own. What else? Health care is unlikely to be a significant problem for the president. Pollster's current average shows ACA remains unpopular, but at 38% support/48% oppose it doesn't appear that it's a major reelection concern -- single issues are rarely all that important anyway, and without a strong majority opposing ACA I'd guess that it will mainly be used to (further) fire up Republicans who were going to vote against Obama anyway. As far as the deficit, I just don't believe anyone cares about it; for those who do mention the deficit in polling, which isn't all that many, I've always believed that it's just a proxy for general economic concern.

That brings us back to the first, and very legitimate, point: the economy. Given the approval polling, I'd recast Cost's argument to say that Obama is currently on shaky ground: if the economy gets worse he'll be in deep trouble, while if it improves even marginally he's probably headed for a fairly easy reelection. If it chugs along where it is now -- technically in recovery, but a historically weak recovery -- then the fundamentals are going to forecast a close election. Which, oddly enough, undermines the first part of his column, because it's in close races that electioneering skill and the "blue smoke and mirrors" Cost talks about actually can make some difference.


  1. It is not surprising that any Republican is not beating the President at the moment. The key poll for the President now is his approval, which has been trending down.
    As for Jay Cost's column, I would argue he is right. If unemployment is above 9% then I think the President is highly unlikely to get re-elected. Progressive bloggers can debate about how voter seems to like Obama, but it will be irrelevant. The economy will have a huge impact on the President's reelection despite what you and other progressives write.

  2. Anonymous:
    Sorry about the reading fail. Read the post: it clearly states that if the economy gets getter, Obama likely wins, and if it gets worse, he likely loses.

  3. Obama's unemployment bogie isn't 9%, or even 8%, it's less than that.

    If he shows up on the 2012 ballot with a stagflated economy and massive debt and high misery index and high inflation and 7% unemployment, plus Bailouts, Porkulus, Cap and Tax and Obamacare as his only "achievements", then he's toast.

    He needs 3% real economic growth to arrive, and fast. That's the only thing that can save him now. His problem is that everything he's doing is helping stifle potential growth.

    He could make like Bill Clinton, who accepted that 18% of GDP is an acceptable level of spending and who signed a welfare reform bill. Obama could sign off on major entitlement reform, with broad bipartisan acceptance, but he doesn't appear willing to do that.

    He's toast unless he changes.

  4. Forget Mr. Obama's general approval rating. Look instead at his deeply underwater economic job approval and voters who say they will vote to reelect Obama. Voters disapprove of Obama's economic performance by a nearly 2:1 ratio and a heavy pluralities say they will definitely vote against the President.

    When you juxtapose Mr. Obama's mediocre general approval rating against his underwater reelect numbers, the voters appear to be saying: "Barry we like you personally, but you have been a disaster. Don't let the door hit you in the rear as you leave."

  5. The economic problems noted above are all a part of the Republican legacy. Not all voters have forgotten.

  6. Interesting . . . I seem to recall that, during the 2004 and 2008 election cycles, conservatives argued that the only thing that mattered in choosing a president is how they would deal with the whole al Queda/terror/war/foreign policy issue. Funny we don't hear much now about any of that . . . with the exception of GOPers complaining about the Libya war (a legal dispute, really, so hard to sell to voters as a Obama failure). We do hear the interesting whine that Obama "coddles our enemies and angers our friends." Uh, yeah . . . Osama surely felt coddled . . . . Even the claim that Obama "sold out Israel" (which continues to receive billions of dollars in aid, despite Netanyahu's intransigence) seem to have fallen largely on deaf ears, since the polling shows that a strong majority of voters think Obama has the balance "just right" between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

    The reality is that the performance of the economy will be one of MANY things considered when people vote. It will be the economic performance AND voter perception of Obama's culpability in it; we know from the WSJ poll last week that 62% of those surveyed know he was dealt a bad hand. I suspect THAT accounts for the fact that Obama's approval ratings are above 50% if you look at all the polls and don't cherry pick Rasmussen . .. which,I might add, has him at about 46% approval. Not bad considering.

    What else will voters consider? How his efforts have played out. Interestingly, Obamacare is not all that popular, but there is also no alternative on the table. I would love to hear the return to tomorrow argument from GOPers and how that would play out; I would bet a steak dinner that that would be less popular than Obamacare is. The auto bailout . . . you won't be hearing much about that from GOPers, or about how great RyanCare would be for everyone.

    What else goes into the mix? Obama's opponent. This is where it really sucks for GOPers -- they are not enthusiastic about their own candidates, and most of them (Romney, Santorum, Pawlenty, Bachmann, Gingrich, etc.) could not carry their own home state against Obama. Couple that with unpopular GOPer governors in swing states (Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida) and you have a recipe for GOP disaster. The only GOPer hope at this point is NOT that the economy stay where it is, but that it gets much worse.

    No, I think Obama wins re-election. And the weakness of the GOP field tells me that they, too, think he will be re-elected. I predict they will soon start arguing that the most important thing is to take the Senate and hold the House.

  7. Please. I keep hearing how much trouble Obama is in, yet he's never dropped below 46% approval and the last 6 months he's steadily floated between 52%-46%, depending on whether he's currently running "Hot" or not. This the economy is bad, and yes the voters are not pleased with Obama's performance on the econmomy, but whats the alternative? Mr. Bain Capital Mitt Romney? Mr. Tax cuts for the rich will save us?
    Again ...... Please. The election is shaping up for a close one, and if you look at all the states in play, and assume Obama is very likely to hold the Kerry states, from electoral college alone, he has a fairly wide path to reelection, not even needing Florida or Ohio. Electorally speaking, he's in surprisingly good shape, but the economy must improve some, otherwise it really doesn't matter.

  8. Mr Depalma needs to truly read electoral history. Since he surely identifies with the Tea Party types, who appear to be composed of many, many, wingnuts, (ie', they see all who disagree with them as Unamerican-which are true fighting words to me), then maybe he will be willing, once he stops frothing at the mouth with his anti-Obama rants, explain exactly what his ideas are to improve the economy.. and DON"T you dare say, "cut taxes". We all know that the tax rate is at lowest level in 60 years, and we have seen where good ole Georgie's tax cuts got us. The mess we are in right now. See you in 2012, with the electoral college vote in my victorious back pocket


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