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Morning Jay: Obama on Thin Ice

6:00 AM, Apr 11, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Yesterday, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll seemed to confirm the meme that Barack Obama is pummeling Mitt Romney among women, helping the former open up a 7-point lead in the general election horse race.

Barack Obama thinking, first day in the Oval Office

What to make of this?

Well, for starters, the poll has an inexplicably large Democratic advantage – the party breakdown in the poll is 34 percent Democratic, 23 percent Republican, and 34 percent independent. As a point of historical comparison, the party spread in four of the last five elections since 2002 has basically been an even split between the two sides. In 2008, a “perfect storm” of bad news for the GOP, the party ID advantage was “only” +7. So, a Democratic advantage of +11 is an unjustifiable number, at least in terms of what the electorate is thinking.

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey did a solid job of dressing down the pollsters for such an absurd Democratic skew, and I encourage you to read his response carefully. I’ll just add that I am always amused when pollsters find an advantage for Democratic candidates that is less than their Democratic oversample. In this case, ABC News/WaPo finds Obama’s job approval at +5 (50 percent approve to 45 percent disapprove), but that is not nearly so impressive in a D+11 sample!

Polls like this are useful, however, in a kind of “Nixon goes to China” sense. Put another way, if Democrats look weak in polls that are so ridiculously pro-Democratic, you know they are in trouble.

And so it goes with President Obama in this poll. He enjoyed some nice headlines from it because of his nominal lead over Mitt Romney, but look underneath the hood and you will see bad news for the commander in chief.

First, his overall job approval is at 50 percent, but how does he fare on the issues that people are worried about right now? Those numbers are not so rosy.

Notice the strongly disapprove number on gas prices, and keep in mind that only about a quarter of this poll is Republican. The implication is that the president must be doing terribly with independent voters on this issue.  His numbers on the economy are somewhat better, but -10 overall is still a rotten place to be if the goal is to win reelection. Again, he must be doing very badly with independent voters to have such a bad number in such a pro-Democratic sample.

Historically, presidents have usually won reelection by convincing the country that good times are back, and here to stay. Unfortunately for Obama, there is nowhere near that sentiment in America right now.

Here are the right track/wrong track numbers:

And here, interestingly, is the number of people who think the recession is over:

Some presidents have managed to win when the public mood is not positive. For instance, Abraham Lincoln won in 1864 during the hell of the Civil War, campaigning on the slogan of “don’t change horses in midstream.” More recently, polls from 2004 suggested an even split among voters as to whether the country was headed in the right direction, and George W. Bush still won.

So it is possible for an incumbent to win during bad times, but Obama’s numbers on the key issues of the day suggest big trouble for him. The whole idea of the old Lincoln slogan is that, though times were bad, he was the best bet for the country over the next four years.

Directly to that point, check out the answers voters give to whom they trust more on the big issues, Obama or Romney.

On all of the most salient issues facing the electorate, we either see a statistical dead heat or a Romney advantage. And this is with Romney being bogged down for four months in a very nasty primary battle.

What to make of that topline between Obama and Mitt Romney, showing Obama up by seven points over the presumptive GOP nominee? Well, for starters a big part of Obama’s lead has to be chalked up to the hugely Democratic tilt of this poll. Pollsters with a more reasonable spread – in particular Gallup and Rasmussen – show a much tighter contest.

But the general election campaign has not actually begun. In fact, the playing field has been systematically stacked in favor of President Obama, who has been relentlessly campaigning while Romney has been mired in a messy primary battle. That is now set to change with Romney clearing out the GOP field.

Additionally, only about 10 to 15 percent of all voters are actually up for grabs in November, and they are hardly paying close attention just yet. Given that, I am much less interested in the head-to-head horse race number between Obama and Romney than I am in the details discussed above. To borrow a metaphor from economics, items like who voters trust more on creating jobs, whether they think the recession is over, or whether Obama is doing a good job dealing with the gas price surge are all “leading indicators” of where the race is going to head as we move forward through the cycle.

So, here’s my bottom line: ABC News/WaPo has again offered up a pro-Democratic sample that helps Team Obama spin the day’s news. Yet dig a little deeper, and there is bad news here for the president, even if his friends in the media do not want to talk about it.

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