As I’ve said repeatedly over the years, candidate vs. candidate polls are virtually useless this far out from an election (9 months).
There’s little reason to pay attention to them. So when you see these:
Obama 48.6 %
[I]n January 1980, the Gallup Poll showed:
And, of course, there are plenty of other examples of those sorts of polls to be found if you look.
That said, there are polls that are indicators because they provide a history that lends itself to identifying whether or not an incumbent is actually in trouble or not. The candidate v. candidate polls above really don’t. We’re still in the early stages of nominating a candidate for one party and the focus has yet to really turn on the incumbent. Numbers will change, I suspect fairly dramatically, when that happens. And, to this point, I’d suggest that most of the country isn’t yet engaged in the presidential race. That will happen 6 months from now when you can begin to pay attention to those polls pitting candidate against candidate.
But to those polls that matter, or at least point to historical trends, etc. Here’s one:
It’s February, nine months before a presidential election, and only 22 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the way things are going. Voters haven’t been this unhappy with the country since George H.W. Bush’s presidency, when only 21 percent of Americans reported being happy with the country’s direction. And before that, the lowest approval rating was 19 percent during Jimmy Carter’s first term.
What do the two presidencies have in common? Neither of them won re-election. And, if the trends holds true, Obama looks to be in an equally precarious situation.
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research released its 2012 campaign outlook, and it’s clear Obama’s sitting in the same position George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were in during the February before their election losses—voters don’t feel good about the country.
So when I hear Democratic strategists like James Carville saying things like this …
The only way the president will lose according to Carville is if some event takes place and changes things. He maintained it wouldn’t be the result of the GOP nominee outshining Obama.
“Right now, things are starting to perk up a little bit,” he said. “Who knows? This is the — no Republican can beat Obama. Events can beat Obama. He’s not going to get beat by a Republican. Now events could come in and cause him to lose the election. But that’s it right now. That was not the case three months ago.”
… I laugh. This is pure “whistling past the graveyard” and political spin. Carville is engaged in psychological warfare here. He wants everyone to believe the worm has turned and it is all sunlight and roses for his candidate.
If dissatisfaction can be called an “event”, then that’s the event which should put Obama exactly where he belongs in November – planning for his presidential library in 2013.
Carville knows as well as anyone that at this point in the process, his choice for re-election has gone almost unscathed and his record mostly unscrutinized. But that will change and it will change dramatically in a few months. And about that time, the focus of the nation will begin to turn to national politics.
The fact remains that the American public is not happy and when it is not happy it tends to not reelect its president. That is the “event” this president faces. And my guess is, when the GOP finally settles on its candidate, OMG (Obama Must Go) will be the driving “event” which determines the election.
Carville says “no Republican” can beat Obama? I disagree. In the end, any Republican can beat Obama. Some by larger margins than others, certainly. But that’s my prediction. The Democrats really haven’t a clue about the level of dissatisfaction that exists with this president.
Even the president most demonized by the left had better numbers than Obama does. At the January SOTU prior to his 2004 re-election run, George W. Bush enjoyed a 41% satisfaction rate (as did Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton). As noted, Obama is at 22%, 3 points above the president almost universally identified as our worst modern president.
Let’s see if James Carville is still laughing after the “event” it November. My guess would be “no”.
I put the results of a lot of polls up. I also skip a lot of them. I usually skip those that I think are transitory and really don’t mean anything in the long run, such as candidate popularity polls a year out from an election with no settled nominee on one side of the political spectrum. At this point, they change like the wind.
But I also think there are “indicator” polls that are important regardless of when they’re taken in relation to the next national election. Direction of the country is one (satisfaction). Voter enthusiasm is another (most energized). And where the independents fall is a third (they decide elections).
Here’s a fourth “indicator” poll (by Gallup) that should disturb the incumbent president’s campaign greatly:
Throughout 2011, an average of 17% of Americans said they were satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is the second-lowest annual average in the more than 30-year history of the question, after the 15% from 2008. Satisfaction has averaged as high as 60% in 1986, 1998, and 2000.
Why is this important? Because politics is a game of perception and in the end, the only perception that matters is the one the voters have both in general and specifically about certain issues and candidates. But it is the general perception that colors voters views on both issues and candidates. And that’s why this poll indicates problems for the president. It is numbers like this that spell election loss to those who’ve been in charge for a term.
The obvious thing the Obama campaign is going to have to do is try to sell the idea that things could have been a lot worse if it weren’t for the “savior”. That’s a very difficult job. Because people tend to judge the condition of the country based on their situation and circumstances (or that of family and friends).
Here’s the bottom line for the President’s campaign that no amount of spin will be able to change:
Americans continue to express low levels of satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States, rivaling the lowest Gallup has measured in the past 30+ years. That dissatisfaction probably reflects Americans’ economic anguish, and the prospects for considerable improvement in satisfaction are not great unless the economy improves significantly.
Likely or unlikely in the next 11 months?
If I had to guess, and watching the developments around the world, such as Europe as well as the US, I’d say “not very likely”.