The Public Is Polarized on Obama and the Economy

For all the focus on head-to-head matchups between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the important number, right now, is the president’s job approval. According to the latest poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, 49 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s performance, while 46 percent disapprove. Overall, according to the Real Clear Politics average, Obama holds an approval rating of 47.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 47.1 percent. There’s room for growth, but not much.

Still, that would be OK if not for the president’s numbers on the economy and his handling thereof. According to NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, 59 percent of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track, a bad number, but nowhere near as terrible as last October, when 74 percent believed that everything was falling to pieces. Likewise, more Americans saw Mitt Romney rather than Obama as having ideas to improve the economy.

If there’s anything good for the president, it comes by way of the latest Gallup survey—by a 50 percent to 42 percent margin, more Americans trust Obama on the economy than they do Romney. What’s more, the public is incredibly polarized; 50 percent of Americans also say that they either don’t trust Obama or have a marginal amount of faith in his ability to help the economy along.

One last thing: It’s almost certainly true that both Obama’s job approval and his “right track/wrong track” numbers will improve if the economy continues on its current path and doesn’t stall. Thankfully for the president, economists have revised their projections upward for the remainder of the year. Barring catastrophe, growth should be a little faster and unemployment a little lower by the time of the election.

Of course, an improving economy is the absolute minimum necessary for Obama’s re-election effort. Campaigns matter, and the administration will have to give Americans a reason beyond the status quo if it wants another four years in office. So far, it hasn’t been forthcoming.