The Future Is Far from Certain

For Democrats, the last month has been filled with Schadenfreude and glee. Beginning with their opposition to the administration’s contraception mandate—which bled into a general opposition to contraceptives—Republicans have done everything they could to alienate women voters, from dismissing birth control as an integral part of women’s health care, to standing on the sidelines as key conservative activists unleashed vitriolic rhetoric against contraception advocates—and women who use birth control in general—attacking them as “sluts” who need to keep their legs together.

If it sticks in the public consciousness—and if they refuse to back down from their anti-contraception stance—this incident promises to be a disaster for Republicans in the fall.

On the gleeful side, Democrats are clearly excited about President Obama’s improved standing with the American public. Job growth has exceeded 200,000 for the last three months, and Obama’s approval rating has been on the upswing, reaching the 50 percent mark in polls from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, and the near–50 percent mark in polls from Gallup, Rasmussen, and Public Policy Polling.

But for as much as recent events have been good to Democrats, there’s always the possibility that this is just noise and that the usual Sturm und Drang of American politics will give way to the fundamental reality of this election: Barack Obama is in a precarious position. The latest poll from ABC News and The Washington Post is evidence of this fact.

With 46 percent approval to 50 percent disapproval, public assessment of Obama’s job performance has returned to its usual place just below the surface. Indeed, in a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney—the likely GOP nominee—President Obama loses, 47 percent to 49 percent. Against Rick Santorum, Obama has a scant three-point lead. The Washington Post attributes this drop to rising gas prices, which seems likely—the president’s standing has declined at both the same time that gas prices have gone up and Republicans have made it an issue.

That said, if you look a little deeper into the poll, the results improve for Democrats; 44 percent of Americans say that the party “better represents” their personal values, 46 percent say that they are “more concerned” with the needs of ordinary people, and 55 percent say that they care “more about the issues that are especially important to women.” And when asked to make a guess about who will win the presidential election, 54 percent say Obama, while only 40 percent will go to bat for the Republican candidate.

Supporters of the president should put the champagne away for now; the electorate is close to evenly divided, and regardless of who wins the Republican presidential contest, the eventual nominee will have a good shot at winning the presidency. Recent events have obscured this, but the simple fact is that the 2012 election will be close.