AP poll: For first time, number who say Obama deserves to be re-elected drops below 50%

Lots of e-mails about this, but the data’s not as bad for him as you might think.

Obama has hit new highs he’d like to avoid – in public disapproval over his handling of the economy in general and unemployment in particular – according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. In addition, more disapprove of his handling of health care and the federal budget deficit than in the past.

The poll shows that four out of five people now believe the economy is in poor shape…

It’s the first time this year in AP-GfK polling that the respondents saying he deserves re-election have fallen below 50 percent, a demanding challenge for Obama. Economic concern has quickly stripped away the gloss he briefly gained after the death of Osama bin Laden.

It’s not just that his Bin Laden bounce is gone. Last month’s AP poll had a notoriously awful sample, with a 46/29 split between Democrats and Republicans. This month’s is a much saner 43/37. Even so, his approval rating’s still above water at 52/47 despite mortifying data like this on the right track/wrong track question:

…and growing pessimism on whether people think unemployment will increase, decrease, or stay the same:

Note that the trend lines are bad in both cases, which explains why the number who say he deserves to be re-elected is now at 48/47, two points lower than the previous low a few months ago. So why do I say the data’s not as bad for him as thought? Behold the answer when people were asked whether it’s realistic to expect some noticeable economic results during Obama’s first term in office:

Forget last month’s numbers, which were skewed by the screwy sample. Look back at the numbers immediately after he took office in 2009. I would have bet cash money at the time that the trend line on this question would be steadily upward over time as voters became more exasperated with the sluggishness of the economy. Not so; on the contrary, not only has the response been flat over time, but lately as the already halting recovery sputtered and economists started worrying about a double-dip, the public’s actually become slightly more patient with Obama. Amazing. Remember, even The One himself said at the start of his term that if he didn’t have the economy on the rebound in three years, he’d be a one-termer. And yet, looking at these numbers — and the numbers from the recent WSJ poll showing how many people still blame Bush for the recession — I’m starting to wonder if that’s true. 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.

Granted, that argument won’t impress O-haters, but O-haters are a distinct minority:

It’s easier to blame a guy for the smoking crater that used to be your economy when you didn’t like him to start with. But when you did, and do, like him, and he can credibly claim that he’s faced with a once-in-a-lifetime recession? I’m not so sure the “Obama can’t win if unemployment’s at eight percent” rule of thumb is so ironclad after all.

This post is bumming me out, so let me leave you with something that might — might — reflect good news:

The Democrats’ Mediscare campaign against Paul Ryan should, in theory, have the public running screaming into their waiting embrace, but they’re actually six points off of where they were last month. Is that because the Mediscaring isn’t working as well as they’d hoped, or is it just an artifact of last month’s screwy, heavily Democratic sample?

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