Bad Economic News Spelling Bad News For POTUS

There aren't many glad tidings at the White House these days.

Repeating a pattern we’ve been seeing for much of the year now, a new CBS News poll portends more bad news for the Obama White House, with more than half of poll respondents saying that the President does not deserve re-election less than one year before they’ll actually be going to the polls to decide that question:

Less than one year out from Election Day 2012, voters remain overwhelmingly pessimistic about the economy, and their concerns are taking a toll on President Obama’s re-election chances. Just 41 percent of Americans think Mr. Obama has performed his job well enough to be elected to a second term, whereas 54 percent don’t think so.

The president’s overall approval rating remains in the mid-40’s, according to a CBS News poll – lower than the approval ratings of Mr. Obama’s four presidential predecessors at this point in their first terms. Mr. Obama’s approval rating is dragged down by his poor marks for his handling of the economy – which, at 33 percent, is the lowest rating of his presidency in CBS News polls.

Mr. Obama receives better marks on foreign policy and for his leadership skills. But when it comes to leading the economy in the right direction, voters are unimpressed: Just 28 percent think he has made progress on improving the economy. And most Americans say the president doesn’t share the public’s priorities, according to the poll, conducted December 5-7.

But it’s on the economy that the President is having his biggest problems:

Views of how he has handled the economy is the obvious drag on the president’s ratings: While just 33 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove. Similarly, just 35 percent approve his his handling of job creation while 58 percent disapprove. The last time Mr. Obama’s approval rating on the economy was above 40 percent was in February of this year.

Views on the national economy remain very negative: Since early 2008, roughly three in four Americans (and sometimes even more) have said the economy is in bad shape. Now, 86 percent of Americans characterize the economy as at least somewhat bad, including 42 percent who say it is very bad.

Although the national unemployment rate recently dropped below 9 percent for the first time since 2009, Americans are skeptical that a recovery is on the horizon. Just 21 percent think the economy is getting better, and 39 percent think it is getting worse, up from 32 percent last month. Another 40 percent think the economy isn’t changing.

When asked if Mr.Obama has made real progress fixing the economy, 68 percent say he has not, and just 28 percent say he has. And while 37 percent say the Obama administration’s policies prevented the country from going into a deeper recession, just under half – 49 percent – say those policies did not do that.

In addition, more think the policies of the Obama administration have mostly favored Wall Street (42 percent) than mostly favored average Americans (38 percent).

That last part is interesting if only because the White House has spent the last three months or so trying to position the President as they guy who is on the side of the middle class standing against Republicans supposedly doing the bidding of Wall Street. At the same time, of course, the President has been attending several-thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers taking money from those same Wall Streeters and members of the so-called 1%. Even taking up the banner of the Occupy movement doesn’t seem to have helped the White House shape the perception that they’re just as much on the side of the insiders as anyone else in Washington, which is no doubt frustrating to those in the White House who viewed the populism of the seemingly receding Occupy movement as a horse they could ride to victory in November.

The bigger problem that the President has, though, may be the fact that his First Term has been so disorganized and lacking in any clear goals that the voters may not think there’s much of a reason to give him an other four years:

As the president gears up for his re-election campaign, 66 percent of Americans say they do not have a clear idea of what he wants to accomplish in a second term; just a third say they do. Fewer than half of Democrats say they have a clear idea of what the president wants to accomplish if re-elected.

This is a perception that could potentially be rectified over the course of the next eleven months, of course, but it’s not going to be easy to do so when the economy remains in a funk, people remain jobless, and Europe continues to look like it could tip the world into another recession at any moment. Moreover, it’s worth noting that Second Terms have rarely been as successful or productive as First Terms in modern history. Nixon’s Second Term was bogged down by Watergate, Clinton’s by the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment, and George W. Bush by the devolving Iraq War and an economy that was, in retrospect, built on a a bubble that was destined to collapse. Reagan’s Second Term was slightly more successful, notwithstanding Iran-Contra, in that he was able to get major tax reform accomplished and negotiate groundbreaking arms controls treaties with the USSR, but even in his case it was clear by 1986 that things were slowing down in the White House and attention was moving on to the 1988 elections. What exactly is Barack Obama hoping to accomplish in a Second Term? That’s a question even he doesn’t seem to be able to answer at the moment.

Perhaps the biggest alarm for the President, though, is the extent to which Americans seem to have moved on from the vision of Barack Obama presented during the 2008 campaign. Asked whether they viewed the President as a uniter or a divider, the CBS poll respondents decidedly seemed to suggest that they are seeing the President as more of a divisive force in American politics than they have previously. Overall, poll respondents said the President was more a divider (47%) than a uniter (35%), among independents the numbers were slightly worse with 48% saying the President is a divider, and 35% saying he’s a uniter. With the obvious caveats regarding the possibility that the GOP could totally mess things up in November still applying, these are not the kind of numbers the President wants to go into an election cycle with. More importantly, even if he manages to pull of what seems likely to be a narrow victory next year, one wonders how he’ll be any more able to push his agenda, whatever it actually is, when 2013 comes around than he is now.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    The irony being that Europe’s condition is the biggest strike against Obama.

  2. john personna says:

    As an aside, I endorse Alex Tabarrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance. I think those mostly libertarian changes would kick off some growth, but it isn’t Obama or the Dems holding off such changes. Alex is (unfortunately) in left field.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Worrying about approval ratings is last century. Does anyone believe that the unemployment rate, the economy, or what is happening in Europe will affect a single black, Hispanic, Jewish, academic, public sector, or homosexual voter.

    The Democrats automatically get 250 electoral votes no matter the state of the country. Given the huge gap in funding raising for the Democrats and the changing demographics of theU.S., it is certain that Obama will win.

    The real question for the election and one that wonk wannabes refuse to discuss is how badly will the Republican nominee will hurt the down ballot candidates.

  4. Herb says:

    The bigger problem that the President has, though, may be the fact that his First Term has been so disorganized and lacking in any clear goals

    That’s not a fact at all.

    Clear goals that have been accomplished: Healthcare reform , getting out of Iraq, Osama Bin Laden dead, regime change in Libya, the end of DADT. There are others.

    Also….if you’re hoping that the economic situation is going to push the Republican over the top, here’s a fact that one must consider: None of the candidates are very popular among Republican voters, much less the general public.

    If anything, if the economy continues to struggle, that only reinforces the idea that it would be unwise to hand it over to someone like Newt Gingrich or his competitors.

  5. Modulo Myself says:

    More importantly, even if he manages to pull of what seems likely to be a narrow victory next year, one wonders how he’ll be any more able to push his agenda, whatever it actually is, when 2013 comes around than he is now.

    Obama’s agenda was pushed pretty well so far–give a key to the treasury to the banks and hedge funds to keep the spigot on, grow the national security killing industry while reducing the more imbecilic operations, try to offer the pretense of the continuance of middle-class society with a bad health care plan, and above all, avoid major Bush-style disasters.

    And he was well-served by the GOP these past four years; if he wins, their zombie catatonia will give up even trying to wear the remains of half-remembered spending ideas or worries. They will be going to go straight for the jugular. The entire House will spend its days staring at screens showing suspicious African-Americans near poll stations. It’s going to be UN black-helicopter birther time without the crazed end-game of Clinton and Lewinsky…

  6. Curtis says:

    I agree largely with Herb. Stimulus, student loan reform, financial reform, two new justices on the Supreme Court, and the successful auto bail-out are what I would add to his list.

    The place of disagreement is about the popularity of the candidates among the Republican voters. One of the candidates is going to win the nomination, and probably do so relatively handily. And nothing increases popularity like winning. So we are forgetting that the perception of the Republican nominee is going to be quite different in November than it has been this year.

    Which brings me to my point about the president. His perception will be quite different by November as well. People aren’t going to vote based on how they feel the economy was performing in 2011; they will vote based on the perception of the economy then. The campaign will outline the goals and distinctions that you say are missing. As for what the president will do, I think he will make it quite clear that he will not allow people to go without health insurance if they have a pre-existing condition. He will not allow Medicare to be changed to a voucher program covering less and less of seniors medical costs. He will not allow even greater tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and will in fact demand they pay a little bit more. He will show the same tempermant that oversaw foreign policy success after foreign policy success the last three years.

    The campaign will make all of these things clear. It doesn’t mean he will win re-election – far from it – but the contrast will be clear before the ballots arrive.

  7. ponce says:

    Even right wing Rasmussen has Obama ahead of Gingrich by a big margin.

  8. Hey Norm says:

    Shorter Doug: I don’t like Obama.

  9. Eric Florack says:

    The irony being that Europe’s condition is the biggest strike against Obama.

    And yet, Obama tells us we should be more like Europe. And then goes about making it so.

  10. john personna says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Did he really say that Eric? Link?

    (It’s easy to find Rush saying he said that, but that’s different, isn’t it?)

  11. john personna says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Also, you probably don’t fully comprehend what “like Europe” means in this context. Europe is trying the very austerity path that the GOP, not the Democrats, want for America.

    Like Europe indeed …

  12. Hey Norm says:

    Eric…Please link to Obama saying that.
    If you have to tell bald-faced lies to make your argument…it ain’t much of an argument.

  13. Hey Norm says:

    And just to be clear Eric…yes I’m calling you a liar.

  14. Mr. Prosser says:

    The real question for the election and one that wonk wannabes refuse to discuss is how badly will the Republican nominee will hurt the down ballot candidates.”

    As much as I dislike Superdestroyer’s overall post, I have to agree with the above quote. Redistricting is done in my state and a couple of congressional districts are a bit more competitive. I assume they are in other states also. The rancor in Congress will carry down the ticket in 2012, espcially, I think in Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana and other states. I think it’s time for serious Republicans to hang on their collective tuchas because it’s going to get seriously kicked.

  15. Davebo says:

    Bit tosses out BS and runs and hides like a cockroach when the lights come on.

    What’s new?

    And Doug is a Libertarian…. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  16. Console says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Oh please, your last vote probably went to Mccain, who was last seen in the debates praising how great Ireland’s tax policies were. The same Ireland that of course now is on the verge of the same debt crises that face greece and italy.

    And since the great celtic tiger was a part of psuedo intellectual right wing mythology for a while now, I’m sure Newt has said something to the same effect.

    Newt’s not on that list but Romney is. Let’s see if we can find Newt:

    With a corporate tax rate of 12.5% first adopted in 1988, Ireland enjoyed a soaring increase in per capita income from the second lowest in the EU to the second highest. Our own Treasury Department published a study showing that Ireland raises more corporate tax revenue as a percent of GDP with that 12.5% rate than we do with our much higher rate. How are American companies supposed to compete in the global marketplace with such a disadvantage?

    Hah. Ireland had like a 17 percent unemployment rate last year. But of course Newt’s economic platform would sound like something he grabbed out of a heritage foundation tract in 2002.

    And don’t get me started on all the stupid conservatives that were praising Andrea Merkel and acting like Germany has it all figured out, all because Merkel rebuffed the idea of european bailouts and bigger stimulus. Now Europe (germany included) is about to implode.

    What’s next after europe dies? My money is on the psuedo intellectual right wingers moving onto saying we need to be more like China. Bachmann’s already lead the way on that one, she just needs some academic sellout to put a nice spin on it and publish a BS article in the national review.

  17. Eric Florack says:

    Eric…Please link to Obama saying that.

    Obama dropped almost all pretenses and made the progressive case against an American free market system, which he called “a simple theory … one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. … And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work.”

    Translation: Let’s be more like Europe! Of course, his actions have spoken far louder.

    From the Times of London, back in 09:

    Top of the president’s change list is the way we consume energy. He believes our use of carbon-based fuels is causing the globe to heat up, with all the dire consequences conjured up by Al Gore as he sits in the library of his home, probably the largest single consumer of energy of any private residence in America. By one means or another, the president will make the use of oil, natural gas and especially coal so expensive that consumers will be forced to use less energy, and rely more for the energy we do use on costly wind and solar power, paid for with tax-funded subsidies or higher utility bills

    That certainly describes the situation in Europe, doesn’t it?

    Also, the day of spacious, safe cars is to end, with the exception of the limousines favoured by congressional leaders and White House appointees. Given the financial dependence of GM and Chrysler on government handouts, and regulations setting fuel-efficiency standards, these companies will be forced to produce and attempt to sell the small, preferably battery-powered vehicles beloved of environmentalists and congressmen from urban areas who rarely take to the open road. This will encourage more Americans to migrate to public transport because fewer will want to endure cramped, no-longer comfortable car rides to and from work. .

    Same comment.

    Which is only one reason why it will become less popular to live in the suburbs

    So, then there will be a higher population density than before in the cities…. Rather like the UN mandate to that effect. And certainly, the European model.

    That’s one reference of many, of course.

    Europe is trying the very austerity path that the GOP, not the Democrats, want for America.

    Heh. OK, true enough, but that wasn’t the point of the Obama campaign setting up speeches in European cities, was it? And them running away from socialism certainly came after 2008…. in my opinion, far too late to stop the crash that’s happening now.

    And why are they trying them? It’s because the left has been such a disaster, there, as they tend to be everywhere.

  18. ponce says:

    Maybe Eric just doesn’t know how to post links.

  19. anjin-san says:

    @ Console

    Did you miss Eric’s posts in the hours before the ’08 election breathlessly telling us about the McCain surge that was going to send Obama down in flames to defeat? He assured everyone that he had inside information not available to mere mortals. It was really classic stuff 🙂

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ ponce

    Don’t be mean to bit. The internets are very complicated.

  21. john personna says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Europe has fuel efficient cars, so asking for fuel efficient cars (like my Japanese(!) Prius), makes us like Europe (not Japan).

    Not the strongest case I’ve ever heard.

  22. john personna says:

    @Eric Florack:

    On “teh socialism” American conservative are weird. One of their own, the Heritage Foundation, publishes a list of countries with greatest economic freedom (here). You all say you are for “freedom” first, but you cry out against many countries on that list as being too “socialist” for you.

    You’d rather not be socialist than be free?

  23. James says:

    @john personna: My take is that, within the internal logic of the rightwing mind, “socialism” and “freedom” are two mutually exclusive concepts. The very idea that more “socialistic” nations could be “more free” is just impossible.

    It’s like when, during the ACA debates, conservatives refused (and continute to refuse) to believe that the law reduces the deficit because it’s a “new entitlement” and therefore could, by definition, could only add to the deficit.