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Morning Jay: What to Make of Obama's Approval Bounce?

6:00 AM, Jan 18, 2012 • By JAY COST
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My gut tells me that, barring some unpredictable event that moves the needle further toward the Republicans this year, Obama will collect the Democratic vote that the party has managed in the last 20 years – about 85 to 90 percent of party identifiers plus 35 to 40 percent of independent voters. The Democratic narrative about the last two years basically is that Obama saved the economy from another depression, and he could have done more were it not for those extremist Tea Partiers. I don’t buy this for a minute, but I think most Democrats do. This narrative (plus a heaping serving of class warfare demoagoguery against Romney, should he win the nomination) will keep them on board the Obama reelection campaign.

So, this consolidation of the base Democratic vote over the last few months does not strike me as actual movement toward the goal of reelection, as it was probably going to happen anyway and losers in the last 20 years have managed the same feat as well. By itself, it is only getting him something around 45 percent of the two-party vote.

To win reelection, Obama must improve substantially with independent voters, a much different task than holding the party base. As we saw above, his current 40.6 percent approval with independents is not much different than what losing Democratic efforts have pulled over the last 20 years. And this anemic showing with independents has basically been the long-term trend:

The Rasmussen Reports poll does not have much better news for Obama on the independent voter front. It finds that just 36 percent of independents rate Obama’s handling of the economy as “excellent” or “good,” 27 percent rate him as “excellent” or “good” on energy (and remember, if gas prices again rise to $4 this summer, energy will be a major campaign issue), only 21 percent believe that Obamacare will be “good for the country,” and his overall job approval on the deficit has been in the mid-30s of late, suggesting that he is very weak indeed with independent voters on this issue (and the deficit is going to be another major issue this cycle).

Put all of this together, and we can conclude the following:

(1) Obama’s uptick recently has been mostly in consolidating the core Democratic vote.

(2) This is probably something that was going to happen, anyway.

(3) As Democratic defeats in 1988, 1994, and 2010 demonstrate, consolidating the Democratic vote is insufficient for victory in November. Instead, the party needs substantial support for independents.

(4) Obama is currently well below that level of independent support, and he has been for some time.

(5) More detailed polling suggests that independents strongly disapprove of the president on the major issues of the campaign.

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