In a sign of increasing pessimism about the direction of the U.S. economy, roughly four in ten Americans now believes it is in permanent decline, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll.
The percentage that sees the economy as in permanent decline has increased from 28 percent in October 2010 to 39 percent in the new poll. And the percentage that expects the economy to eventually recover to its past heights has fallen from 68 percent last October to 57 percent today.
That’s not the only finding signaling that Americans have a negative outlook about their economic future. Only 20 percent now say the economy is getting better, the lowest number since last August. Thirty-one percent say it is getting worse. Roughly half stay it is staying the same.
I already made this point at some length last week when writing about the recent AP poll, but let me repeat: The more protracted America’s economic malaise is, the more I think voters will come to believe that it’s not a policy problem but a structural problem, and therefore the less inclined they’ll be to blame Obama for low GDP and high unemployment. That’s why he pushed the dopey meme about ATMs taking away jobs, of course. If we don’t see major growth happen by next spring, he’ll take the position that this economic downturn is so viciously singular and intractable — whether due to globalization, debt worries, ATMs, or what have you — that no president could have averted it. It is/was inevitable and “permanent”; it’ll be over when it’s over, with the feds powerless to speed things up in any meaningful way. The significance of tonight’s poll is that there might be a large and growing constituency that believes that. If so, Obama will be effectively immunized from the downturn among that group. Paradoxically, among them, the worse the economy is, the better it is for him.
Like I said last week, there’s a chance that the public’s simply reserving judgment at the moment, giving him the maximum amount of time to make a dent in GDP and, later, unemployment before deciding whether it’s time to cut bait on Hopenchange. If so, these polls will snowball against him later next year. And in fact, a Fox News poll out tonight shows his job approval at a yearly low — but even that low is just 46/46. His numbers are surprisingly resilient given the state of the economy, and I don’t think it’s all due to O being personally well liked by most voters. I think it’s because this perfect storm is so perfect that they feel we’re at its mercy. Not even a Reagan Republican as president can, er, help.
Update: Some commenters are reading this as me claiming that a bad economy is actually good for him, that it’ll take this issue off the table, etc. Of course not. That’s insane. The economy will be the biggest anchor around his feet next year no matter what. My point is, the severity of the malaise may be such that it ends up being less of an anchor among some voters than it might have been in a more traditional recession. Some voters will reason that this is a global/structural problem, bigger than the presidency, and therefore he bears less responsibility for it than he might in other circumstances. Most voters will still blame him, but in a close election all you need is a few to break the wrong way. Go re-read last week’s post linked above. In theory, more people should be blaming him for the bad economy the longer it drags on. That’s not what we’re seeing — yet.