6. 2012 isn’t expected to be much better. The performance of the economy this year will likely matter most to Obama’s reelection. As mentioned above, if people feel like good times are right around the corner, they will be more inclined to back the president, even if the economic metrics are still lackluster.

The problem for the president is that the U.S. economy has been operating well below its postwar trend line for the last decade, and most experts expect that to continue.

Generally speaking, economists expect the fourth quarter of 2011 to show an acceleration of growth, but these gains are not expected to continue. Instead, the most recent survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal projects growth in the first three quarters of 2012 to average just 2.2 percent. This is only slightly better than the first three quarters of 2011, when the economy averaged 1.2 percent, and it compares unfavorably to the 1947-2007 average of 3.5 percent.