WASHINGTON — It’s been the conventional wisdom for months — U.S. President Barack Obama is in good shape to win the 2012 election, thanks in part to a Republican field populated by potential candidates like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann.
And yet recent polls are suggesting 2012 is far from a sure thing for the president. Since he announced his re-election bid two weeks ago, his approval ratings have been steadily slipping as Americans fume about rising gasoline prices and the enduring ill health of the U.S. economy.
A new ABC/Washington Post survey puts Obama’s approval rating at 47 per cent, with 50 per cent expressing disapproval. That’s a drop of four percentage points in a similar poll a month ago.
For the White House, perhaps the most chilling statistic in the ABC/Post poll is this one: among independents — now the biggest and most powerful bloc of American voters — Obama’s disapproval rate has risen to 55 per cent, again fuelled by economic concerns. Winning over the independents will be the key to presidential victory in 2012.
Another poll, this one by Gallup, has found that Obama’s ninth quarter in office has him at the lowest point in his presidency, with his job approval rating slipping to 43 per cent and to as low as 41 per cent on two separate occasions earlier this month.
And a Rasmussen Reports survey published Thursday has found that just 22 per cent of likely U.S. voters believe the country is heading in the right direction. That ties with the lowest level of Obama’s presidency, back in mid-March.
“Whenever you’re the president, you’re going to be held accountable for events, whether they’re of your creation or not,” David Axelrod, a longtime Obama strategist, told the Wall Street Journal this week. “That’s just part of the deal.”
Americans, indeed, don’t care whose fault it is. All signs suggest that unless the economy improves significantly in the next 19 months, Obama could face defeat at the polls, especially if Republicans choose a respected mainstream candidate, like Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman or Tim Pawlenty.
Romney, in fact, is considered the one candidate who could beat Obama, according to the ABC/Post poll. Whether the Republican base, many of them Christian evangelicals, gives a Mormon the nomination remains to be seen.
One observer points out that there’s lots of time for the situation to change.
“The economy is starting to turn around a bit, so while his poll numbers are bleak right now, any improvement in the economic situation will be to his advantage,” Victoria Mantzopolous, a political science professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, said Thursday.
“I see similarities to the situation Ronald Reagan faced at about the same stage of his presidency. The economy started to improve, his numbers went up and he won re-election.”
Others see parallels to the scene in 1992. With the economy in trouble and unemployment climbing to eight per cent, George H.W. Bush was nonetheless considered a shoo-in for re-election based on the supposed weakness of potential Democratic candidates.
Enter Bill Clinton, whose chief campaign strategist, James Carville, famously pointed out what issue was of paramount concern to Americans that year: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Democrats gave Clinton the nomination, and by July of ’92, he’d pulled ahead of Bush and was on his way to a two-term presidency.
The D.C. contention — among Democrats and Republicans alike — that Obama could easily dispose of someone like Trump or Palin explains why some of the most influential conservative voices in the United States have been railing for weeks against the presidential aspirations of fringe candidates.
The venom they’ve aimed at Palin for months has now been redirected at Trump, the mouthy billionaire with a hairstyle as eyebrow-raising as some of his recent proclamations. His popularity is nonetheless surging among Republican voters.
Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer called Trump “our Al Sharpton, no more, no less” in weekend remarks, a reference to the widely discredited African-American civil rights activist.
Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s chief strategist, has assailed Trump’s remarks that he’s unconvinced of Obama’s citizenship, saying the real estate mogul is part of the “nutty right” and as a result is “not consequential” as a potential candidate.