As Peter Allen once sang, “Everything old is new again,” especially in the Washington Post/ABC poll. Barack Obama’s high disapproval ratings on the economy, Republican competitiveness against Obama, and anger over gas prices have all reappeared, along with the WaPo/ABC sample data on partisan composition. That’s no coincidence, either:
Disapproval of President Obama’s handling of the economy is heading higher — alongside gasoline prices — as a record number of Americans now give the president “strongly” negative reviews on the 2012 presidential campaign’s most important issue, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Increasingly pessimistic views of Obama’s performance on the economy — and on the federal budget deficit — come despite a steadily brightening employment picture and other signs of economic improvement, and they highlight the political sensitivity of rising gas prices.
The potential political consequences are clear, with the rising public disapproval reversing some of the gains the president had made in hypothetical general-election matchups against possible Republican rivals for the White House. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) now both run about evenly with Obama. The findings come just five weeks after Obama appeared to be getting a boost from the improving economy.
Gas prices are a main culprit: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll. Most Americans say higher prices are already taking a toll on family finances, and nearly half say they think that prices will continue to rise, and stay high.
It seems that Obama’s dismissive advice last week that gas prices are always “spiking up” this time of year didn’t do anything to set minds at ease. Rapid gas price hikes and the resulting increase in food prices quickly erode buying power in working-class and middle-class households, which means that fewer people will have money for vacations and impulse spending in 2012. While the jobs reports have been mildly positive the last three months, the manufacturing reports were dismal in January, and the gas price spike is likely to lead to an economic slowdown and an end to those good jobs reports.
But that’s not the only influence on the new WaPo/ABC poll numbers. After hiding the partisan composition numbers for the last two months, today’s poll includes that data from the last three presidential polls. Let’s take a look at the D/R/I series, keeping in mind that the D/R/I from the 2010 midterm elections was 35/35/30:
- March: 31/27/36
- February: 34/23/37
- January: 32/25/36
The February poll from which the WaPo/ABC series derived its previous Obama approval numbers gave Democrats an 11-point edge and undersampled Republicans by 12 points in relation to their 2010 turnout. This survey has a difference of seven points in the gap. Let’s take a look and see how Obama’s approval numbers line up with that in mind:
- Overall approval: 50/46 in Feb, 46/50 in Mar (8 point difference in the gap)
- Economy: 44/53 in Feb, 38/59 in Mar (10 point difference in the gap)
- Deficit: 38/58 in Feb, 32/63 in Mar (11 point difference in the gap)
- Afghanistan: 53/43 in Feb, 46/47 in Mat (9 point difference in the gap)
Interestingly, the WaPo/ABC poll had never asked about gas prices before this survey, and the last time they polled on energy policy was in … August 2009. Obama is at 26/65 on gas prices and 38/48 on energy policy, after having been at 55/30 in August 2009. Otherwise, the decline in Obama’s numbers is almost entirely a function of their absurd sampling bias in previous polls. Imagine what it would be if they actually had a survey where Democrats and Republicans had parity in line with the last national election.
Update: You have to love Jim Geraghty’s headline: “Unstoppable Incumbent Now Trails Romney Again.” He also notes the difference in sample composition, as well as this interesting result:
They asked, “Do you think there’s anything the Obama administration reasonably can do to reduce gasoline prices, or do you think gas prices have risen because of factors beyond the administration’s control?” They found 50 percent responded the administration can do something; 45 percent said “beyond their control.”
Back in May 2006, 62 percent thought that the Bush administration could do something about the price of gas, and only 35 percent thought it was beyond their control.