Green Room

Obama 2012: It Could Be Worse!

posted at 12:30 pm on September 17, 2011 by

Pres. Obama’s decline continues in the new CBS News/New York Times poll, which Allahpundit aptly terms brutal, especially in light of the poll’s historical pro-Obama house effect. Fifty percent now disapprove of his job performance (54% of Independents disapprove). Moreover, the president is now personally underwater; just 39% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 42% view him unfavorably. I am unsure that means much, but it is not a plus.

However, true to form, Allahpundit cannot resist turning Eeyorepundit when confronted with news which facially favors the right. He focuses in on the finding that 53% now say the condition of the national economy is beyond any president’s control, up from a mere 26% in the summer of 2008 and 45% last summer. AP suggests it confirms some of his earlier pessimism about how much the economy may influence the 2012 election:

I think it could go two ways if he doesn’t turn things around by next year. One: The public will continue to cut him lots of slack well into 2012, but as the election approaches and they realize that this will be their last chance until 2016 to change course, they’ll bail and we’ll see a rapid snowball effect among those blaming him for not fixing the economy. Or two: The public will decide that the current recession is so uniquely horrible, unlike anything since the Great Depression, that it’s unfair to expect any president to make major strides in just one term, which will have the ironic effect of partly neutralizing the economy as an electoral issue. That’s completely counterintuitive given its singular importance right now (fully 93 percent in this poll say the economy is extremely or very important to them, an all-time high), but paradoxically the worse things get, the easier it is for Obama to frame slow growth and chronically high unemployment as some sort of mega-quake or force majeure for which no one could reasonably be expected to have been prepared.

Allahpundit is not alone in casting back to the Great Depression as a possible model for the 2012 election. On the other side of the spectrum, Ezra Klein is terrified that Obama will turn out to be Hoover instead of FDR — that if Obama loses, the economy will recover under a GOP-led government and Republicans will dominate the political landscape for decades to come. Both can rest a bit easier after considering the weaknesses of the theory.

First, although the economy is mired in malaise — and may remain so for a while — America is manifestly not in a Great Depression. More significantly here, America is not in the Great Depression. The New Deal Coalition was not only remarkably robust, but also remarkably diverse (and not in the sense of identity politics). Indeed, both parties were more ideologically diverse for most of the 20th century than they are today. Given how close the 2000 and 2004 elections were — and how 2008 ultimately did not reflect public support for a New New Deal — the emergence of a coalition that can dominate Congress and the presidency for decades seems unlikely. Indeed, it seems even less likely if one assumes that the federal government will continue to mostly fail at decisively addressing the economy and the public debt.

Second, the CBS/NYT poll findings have to be read as a whole. If Americans increasingly say the president has little control over the economy (a finding which would have long-term benefits for the right, incidentally), why are the same Americans increasingly disapproving of his job performance? Granted, an increasing number disapproves of Obama’s handling of most issues, but the economy is the overwhelming issue driving all of these results.

Without the poll’s crosstabs, I would hypothesize that the rising number of people saying (as opposed to believing) the president cannot do much about the economy comes mostly from the ranks of Obama 2008 voters. After all, those in the establishment media reliably put out the narrative that Obama’s failure is a failure of the American system of government. “It Could Be Worse!” is also the subtext of the entire defense of the Obama’s failures, both from within and without the administration. Those now saying Obama has little control over the economy likely remain predisposed to him; the issue is whether people adopting this view will be motivated to turn out for Obama in November 2012. That issue is why Obama 2012 must also run on “It Could Be Worse!” with the GOP nominee. Political observers almost universally acknowledge that both versions of “It Could Be Worse!” comprise the unofficial slogan of Obama 2012, so we should consider the increase in “it’s not Obama’s fault” to be baked into the cake.

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Allahpundit on September 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

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Allahpundit on September 17, 2011 at 5:29 PM

Or two: The public will decide that the current recession is so uniquely horrible, unlike anything since the Great Depression, that it’s unfair to expect any president to make major strides in just one term, which will have the ironic effect of partly neutralizing the economy as an electoral issue.

There’s quite a complex thought process to come to that conclusion. I seriously doubt that many voters will come up with it. Especially since the easier – and possibly more correct conclusion – would be a desire to oust the guy digging the hole in favor of someone who, at least, won’t dig as rapidly.

Ace ODale on September 17, 2011 at 2:48 PM