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Morning Jay: Obama the Underdog

6:00 AM, Apr 19, 2012 • By JAY COST
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There have been ups (e.g., the killing of Osama bin Laden) and downs (e.g., the debt ceiling debate), but by and large Obama’s numbers have been pretty consistent, between 46 and 48 percent (this morning's reading is a very typical 47.3 percent). And that consistency is driven primarily by weak numbers among independent voters. The Gallup poll consistently shows him pulling in about 42 percent support from this bloc, well short of what is needed to get him above 50 percent overall.

(Incidentally, this helps explain most of the variation in net job approval between polls. For instance, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has a large Democratic oversample (D+11), so his job approval is positive and fairly healthy looking at 50-45. Ditto the CBS News/New York Times poll that came out last night (D+8) at 48-42. On the other hand, Gallup, Rasmussen, Fox, and a few others consistently show a tighter spread between the two parties, thus making his job approval look worse. For what it is worth, actual election results over the last 10 years tend to reflect the latter batch of polls in terms of party ID, and no election in 20 years has had as outsized a Democratic advantage as what the ABC News/Washington Post or CBS News/New York Times polls regularly “find.”)

This is why I think the 2012 conventional wisdom is oversold. If Trende is right (and I believe he is), then Obama is going to have to get his job approval above 50 percent with the electorate, something he has not managed to do on a sustained basis in over two years.

I think this president's problem is that he misread his mandate and the public mood in 2009, which led to a historic miscalculation on his part through the summer and fall of that year when he pushed the health care bill. He compounded the error in winter 2010, forcing the bill through after Scott Brown's victory. By that point, he just seemed to lose credibility with the vital center of the American public; he hasn't gotten it back, and frankly I do not think he has made any concrete steps in the last two years to persuade the broad middle of the country to rejoin his cause.

Obviously, he could still do it. He has plenty of time, but why should we be expecting that to happen? It is not like the experts are predicting the economy is going to take off between now and Election Day. Instead, we are going to get more of the same muddled growth at roughly 2-2.5 percent, far less than what is needed to reduce the deficit or create jobs. So that means it is really up to Obama to sync up with the public mood. He has not done that, and frankly I am not sure he and his people recognize the need to do that, let alone how to do it. His latest brand of class warfare shtick has not won an election since 1948 -- and in fact the last three Democrats to win the presidency  (Carter, Clinton, and Obama) all played directly against that common caricature of the Democratic party.

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