One of the enduring truths about national political elections in the US is you can’t win with just the support of your party base. There just aren’t enough of them. Roughly 30% on the left consider themselves to be Democrats and about the same on the right call themselves Republicans. Even if a candidate got every vote, he or she is going to be shy of the majority needed to win the office. So another enduring truth is you must win the independent vote – that big, supposedly moderate 40% in the middle – to win an election. That’s why you hear people talk about politicians “running to the middle”.
So when you’re looking at a presidential race or polling, the most interesting demographic are the “independents”, because where ever they’re going or whatever they’re saying is likely to determine the election.
Since early last year, that demographic has been increasingly deserting the Democrats in general and Barack Obama specifically. To put it succinctly, they’re not at all happy with the condition of the country, it’s direction or his policies even while many of them find Obama to still be likeable.
In 2008, Obama carried independents by a decisive 52% to 44% margin and took 30 states. In 2004, John Kerry narrowly won independents over George Bush 49% to 48%, reversing Bush’s 47% to 45% win against Al Gore in 2000.
In only nine of the last 32 months has the IBD/TIPP Presidential Leadership index been above 50, and the positive months were all in 2009. Since January 2010, the index has stayed in the negative territory (below 50). The averages were 57.5, 44.2 and 44.6 for 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively.
Independents also believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Only 19% of them are satisfied with America’s direction and 80% are not satisfied.
But will likeable be enough in 2012? Not likely.
An overwhelming share of independents (74%) like Obama personally, and 59% believe he has the vision to be president. A similar share (58%) also believe the president cares about the needs of people like them, and 59% think he’s worked hard to bring about change compared with 40% who say that he has mostly talked about it.
On the other hand, 62% disapprove of his policies, and by 63% to 35% they think he lacks the experience to be an effective president. A majority of independents (51%) do not believe that he is someone they would be proud to have as president; only 42% would be proud.
Reality is a stark reminder that performance, not rhetoric is what counts. And likeability will only carry you so far. Good intentions are laudable but only if they lead to solid results. Also of note is most people are willing to give a politician a chance to accomplish things and are even appreciative of hard work and that the politician “cares”. But the bottom line is that only results get someone re-elected. To this point, Obama simply hasn’t provided those. Independents may like him for the most part, but his job performance has not impressed the majority:
Only 15% give Obama an A or B for his handling of the economy, 16% give him good grades for managing the federal budget, and just 12% see him favorably for creating jobs and economic growth.
These low grades more than cancel out Obama’s non-economic successes, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) independents say his handling of the economy weighs more in their minds than getting the al-Qaida leader and mastermind of 9/11 (11%).
Funny and ironic … in his run for the presidency, his lack of a resume was probably his biggest strength. What was to criticize? What was there to assess? He sounded great.
Now, on the other side of winning the presidency, he has to finally run on his record. And, given this poll’s results, it isn’t a good one.