President Obama came into office with high levels of support and approval on a key component of the 2008 election: his ability to handle the economy. Two and half years later, jobs and the economy are still identified as the top concerns for Americans, and that’s a problem for Obama.
Given the sluggish growth in this area since he was sworn in, the key to Obama’s 2008 victory is starting to become a liability. In a new Gallup poll, Obama registered just 26 percent approval on his handling of the economy, his lowest ever rating and down from a high of 59 percent in February of 2009.
Of course, there are many reasons for this drop, just as there are many reasons the economy itself has been stuck in neutral. The latest round of Washington gridlock over the debt debate has been causing more than just political damage to the approval ratings of national leaders. S&P downgraded American debt for the first time in our history. Economic confidence plunged over the last month, and the percentage of Americans who say the economy is getting worse, which has been climbing from the mid fifties all summer, spiked to 77 percent last week. CNN polling confirmed a similar sentiment with polling of their own, in epic fashion:
According to the poll, 60 percent now say that the economy is still in a downturn and getting worse. That’s up 24 points from April, when a plurality believed that things had stabilized.
“Since the question was first asked in the spring of 2009, the number of Americans who said the economy was in a downturn had never been higher than 40 percent,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “The jump in economic pessimism is across the board - a majority of every major demographic and political subgroup thinks the economy is in a downturn and getting worse.”
Economic uncertainty has never left the minds of voters during Obama’s term. Jobs were the number one issue for 63% of Americans in a March of 2009 CNN poll, and it’s the first priority of 60 percent of Americans when CNN polled the same question in first week of August this year. A stubborn unemployment rate, although lower than when Obama took office, has not helped. All of which puts an even greater emphasis on the adage that the last two-term Democratic President went by: It’s the economy, stupid.
But these grave economic numbers have not have had the effect on the Presidential race that GOP supporters would like. Instead of a crowded field of nominees that consistently outpoll the President in hypothetical matchups, there isn’t one that has shown real strength. Polls last week showed Obama besting all comers in swing states like Colorado and North Carolina. The week before that, Gallup released data that showed Obama’s approval rating moving up in crucial states over the course of 2011, not falling.
The newest narrative in the Presidential race is the emergence of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has named himself the “jobs governor” as centerpiece of his message. But Perry has one thing in his way: creating some space between how voters trust HIM on the economy and how they trust Republicans in general. A New York Times/CBS poll conducted directly after the debt deal was announced showed that despite all the pessimism, respondents still trusted President Obama more to make decisions on the economy (47 percent) than Republicans in Congress (33 percent). Perry is certainly not in that group, nor is former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. But for either to make headway in the polls and take advantage of Americans’ economic gloom, they will have to show it.
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Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.