The most recent poll from Quinnipiac University is silly, but that won't stop everybody from quoting it:
Forty-nine percent say he doesn't deserve re-election, 43 percent say he does deserve a second term, and 9 percent are undecided. Independents say he doesn't deserve another term by 51 percent to 35 percent, with 14 percent undecided. [...]
In matchups with several potential Republican nominees, Obama finds himself in close races with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Romney leads him by 45 percent to 44 percent, and Obama leads Huckabee by 46 percent to 44 percent, which is within the poll's 2-point margin of error. The remainder of those surveyed preferred someone else, said they wouldn't vote or were undecided. Both Romney and Huckabee led Obama among independents.
I hate to make parallels between Obama and Reagan -- their circumstances are different enough that I'm not sure that 1:1 comparisons are useful -- but this is an instance where we should take a lesson from the past. Throughout 1982, Ronald Reagan's approval ratings lingered in the low 40 percent range, reaching 41 percent by the end of the year, thanks mostly to the poor economy. In August 1982, when asked if they wanted to see Reagan run for re-election, only 36 percent of Americans said yes, with 51 percent asking him to step aside (by contrast, 50 percent of Americans wanted Jimmy Carter to run for re-election in 1978). By 1983, Reagan's approval ratings had fallen to 35 percent -- the lowest of his presidency -- and prominent Democrats were itching to challenge the "weak" Republican president. Of course, by the second half of 1983, his approval had picked up, and by 1984, Reagan was one of the most popular figures in American politics, with a job-approval rating in the mid-to-high 50s.
The current economic situation is far worse than anything that faced Reagan. Even still, Barack Obama's approval ratings have yet to drop to Reagan levels and have remained in the 45 percent to 47 percent range for the better part of the year. Not great, but pretty routine, as far as presidential approval is concerned.
Pollsters should continue to ask the public if they want to see the president re-elected, but pundits really shouldn't pay attention to the results; they don't tell us anything and won't tell us anything until the middle of 2012, when it will already be abundantly clear whether the president will be re-elected or not. So please, political pundits, let's not give too much weight to this poll. It's not actually a big deal.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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