Weak Economy Continues To Hold Obama’s Poll Numbers Down

Mitt Romney has had a rough two weeks, but Barack Obama has to deal with a bad economy.

A new CBS News/New York Times poll shows the Presidential race as a dead heat nationally, but there are indications that the state of the economy is continuing to have a negative impact on President Obama’s job approval numbers, and potentially the race itself if these conditions continue for the next several months:

Declining confidence in the nation’s economic prospects appears to be the most powerful force influencing voters as the presidential election gears up, undercutting key areas of support for President Obama and helping give his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, an advantage on the question of who would better handle the nation’s economic challenges, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

Despite months of negative advertising from Mr. Obama and his Democratic allies seeking to further define Mr. Romney as out of touch with the middle class and representative of wealthy interests, the poll shows little evidence of any substantial nationwide shift in attitudes about Mr. Romney.

But with job growth tailing off since spring and the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, wondering aloud whether the labor market is “stuck in the mud,” the poll showed a significant shift in opinion about Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, with 39 percent now saying they approved and 55 percent saying they disapproved.

In the Times/CBS poll in April, when the economy seemed to have momentum, 44 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

The new poll shows that the race remains essentially tied, notwithstanding all of the Washington chatter suggesting that Mr. Romney’s campaign has seemed off-kilter amid attacks on his tenure at Bain Capital and his unwillingness to release more of his tax returns. Forty-five percent say they would vote for Mr. Romney if the election were held now and 43 percent say they would vote for Mr. Obama.

When undecided voters who lean toward a particular candidate are included, Mr. Romney has 47 percent to Mr. Obama’s 46 percent.

Both results are within the poll’s margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. But it is the first time Mr. Romney has shown a numeric edge in the Times/CBS poll since he emerged from the primaries as the presumptive nominee. Mr. Obama had a three-point advantage in March. The two were each favored by 46 percent in April.

The poll, conducted between July 11 and 16 and including 982 registered voters, is reflective of the national mood, not the views of voters in the handful of swing states most likely to decide the outcome — and where most of the campaign advertising war is being waged.

On job approval numbers, the President is underwater overall job approval (44% approve/46% disapprove) as well as job approval on the economy (39% approve/55% disapprove) and foreign policy (41% approve, 42% disapprove). Romney, meanwhile, is leading the President in a wide variety of policy areas on the question of which candidate would do a better job handling specific issues. This includes the economy (Romney 49% Obama 41%), the Budget deficit (Romney 50% Obama 36%), taxes (Romney 47% Obama 42%), illegal immigration (Romney 46% Obama 36%). In two other areas, health care and “terrorism and security,” the candidates are essentially tied. Obama only holds a lead in two policy areas at the moment, social issues (Obama 48% Romney 37%) and foreign policy (Obama 47% Romney 40%).

Two other polls released in recent days are consistent with the CBS/NYT poll. A poll conducted for National Public Radio shows Obama leading Romney 47% to 45%, and a poll conducted for Fox News as a joint operation of a Democratic and a Republican polling firm shows Obama leading Romney 45% to 41%. In both cases, these results in the margin of error for the respective polls. Meanwhile, the current tracking poll results from both Rasmussen and Gallup show the race essentially tied; Rasmussen has Romney up by one point while Gallup has the race tied. That leaves us with a RealClearPolitics average for the national polls at +1.8 in the President’s favor, again essentially a tie, and a chart over the past three months, starting back on April 1st, that looks like this:

There isn’t an indication in any of these polls that the Bain issue, or the Romney campaign’s decision not to release any additional tax returns is having much of an impact on the race. However, that’s not entirely surprising. It usually takes several weeks for stories getting heavy play in the news media have any impact on polling, so I’d suggest waiting a week or two to see if Romney’s position has been harmed by the last two weeks of news and political ads. Of course, with the Olympics coming up and many Americans on summer vacations or otherwise engaged with that thing they like to call real life, one wonders if we’ll see much of an impact even then. As I’ve said before, those of us who follow politics closely tend to forget the fact that most Americans aren’t like us and they don’t obsessively read the blogs and watch cable news coverage of the Presidential campaign.

What Americans most likely are paying attention to, though, is the economy. It’s something they deal with every day at the grocery store and the gas station, and the prospect of losing their job or finding work if they’re unemployed likely keeps many people up at night. Just today, we learned that initial claims for unemployment jumped by 34,000 last week. Partly, that was a reflection of the fact that the previous week’s report was understated because of the holiday week at the beginning of the month, but it’s also a likely indication that the jobs picture for July isn’t going to look that much better than it was in June.  Additionally, as I reported earlier this week, we had hugelydisappointing Retail Sales figures for June, and several analysts have already started downgrading their GDP forecasts for the rest of the year, and on into 2013. Then, of course, there’s the “Fiscal Cliff” scenario and the dangers that portends. We may not actually end up in a recession when all this is over, but it’s fairly clear that the economy is going to remain weak all the way through the election, and that’s certainly not good news for the incumbent President.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Economics and Business, Terrorism, 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. stonetools says:

    The issue is going to be what can be done to revive the economy. Obama hasn’t really responded effectively to the Republican’s “Where are the jobs” .
    My guess is that after Labor Day. Obama will introduce a big jobs bill, pointing to the Fed’s refusal to do anything. After the Republicans votes it down, he’ll run against a “Do-Nothing” Congress and it will be “Give ’em hell, Barry” till November He’ll win too. Romney is if anything a worse candidate than Dewey.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    @stonetools: The Fed hasn’t refused to do anything, it can’t do anything. Its supposed powers to stimulate are largely a myth.

  3. Jr says:

    The race is tight and the economy is a huge problem for Obama.

    But that CBS/NYT poll is complete junk. Do people really think Mitt is leading Obama when it comes to these issues?

    taxes (47-42%)
    immigration (46-38%)
    social issues (48-37%).

  4. paladin says:

    B-b-b-ut how can this be true? Romney put his dog on the roof, he’s a Mormon, he founded Bain, he refuses to release more of his tax returns, his wife rides horses!!!11111!!!

    What the hell is wrong with an electorate that can only focus on their own selfish interests by demanding more jobs and an economy that isn’t in permanent recession?

    Don’t these morons know Obama got Osama?


  5. Ron Beasley says:

    I think the tax issue will be a drip drip drip that will eventually become a problem for Romney. The speculation on why he won’t release them will continue and I suspect it’s the 2009 taxes that are the problem.

  6. MBunge says:

    @paladin: “What the hell is wrong with an electorate that can only focus on their own selfish interests by demanding more jobs and an economy that isn’t in permanent recession?”

    Yeah! Let’s hand the economy back to the same people who led us to the brink of global economic armageddon! And let’s put back in charge the people who turned Iraq into one of the worst foreign policy disasters in U.S. history! What could possible go wrong?


  7. Ron Beasley says:

    @Ben Wolf: You are correct – Alan Greenspan shot the last bullet in the FED’s gun to get Bush reelected in 2004.

  8. Cycloptichorn says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Um, no. Not accurate. The Fed could could and should set a higher target interest rate immediately. And they literally could pour money into the economy in order to accomplish this. And they should do that.

  9. stonetools says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    The Fed hasn’t refused to do anything, it can’t do anything. Its supposed powers to stimulate are largely a myth

    Milton Friedman would totally disagree with you (you may have heard of him).
    Can the Fed cure the recession all by itself. No. Can it do more? Sure .

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    @Cycloptichorn: The Federal Reserve does not control thr money supply. It can influence the cost of loans by changing the FF rate, but that’s it. Pouring money into an economy is a fiscal operation.

  11. Ben Wolf says:


    Milton Friedman would totally disagree with you (you may have heard of him).

    Yes, and his theories on targetting monetary aggregates proved disasterous in the 1970’s.

  12. JBJB says:

    Also to consider is the fact that Obama has massively outspent Romney in the past month or so with a barrage of negative ads and his fundraising is lagging, the needle hasn’t moved. The spending gap is going to change dramatically soon. Obama has a 400-500 million pound sledgehammer still to come his way. Its going to be fun to watch..

  13. anjin-san says:

    Don’t these morons know Obama got Osama?

    Yes, and he also kept the economy from sailing off the edge of that cliff the last Republican administration had us heading for at warp speed.

    You can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Outside of the Foxverse, people understand that Obama inherited an economic disaster of historic proportions. They are frustrated, and many are angry and scared, but they know there are no conservative magic ponies waiting to fix the economy.

  14. Lomax says:

    3 questions for Obama and Romney that you won’t hear on any network:
    Will you take the US out of the UN and the UN out of the US?
    Will you have the Federal Reserve investigated and audited – by an independent organization and have the results made public?
    Will you get the US out of organizations such as the World Bank and the WTO?

  15. Mr. Replica says:

    I do not understand why Romney gets a higher score in regards to dealing with the debt.
    Mitt wants the country to revert back to policies that lead to the deficit in the first place.
    Along with keeping the Bush-era tax cuts permanently, Mitt also wants to cut taxes further. He also wants to increase defense spending, while having a hawkish stance in regards to America’s enemies.
    Considering these are all neo-con ideas to begin with, mostly due to the fact that Romney has stacked his campaign with ex-Bush administration advisers…one could conclude that Romney would have no problem committing the country into another military conflict (Iran). Which would cost billions, if not trillions, of dollars.

    Tell me, how will this lead to paying off the massive national debt?

    Oh, wait, the Ryan plan will save the day!
    Which will do what again?

  16. Ron Beasley says:

    What amazes me is some of the most effective Romney bashing is going on at The American Conservative magazine. Daniel Larison has been bashing his foreign policy with some help by social conservative Rod Dreher. And today James Pinkerton and Noah Millman are blasting his economic policy.