A Middling Result for Obama

Depending on how you look, the most recent poll from ABC News and the Washington Post shows Obama in either a precarious position, or a decent one given the circumstances. If you’re inclined to take the former view, the evidence is clear: 55 percent of voters disapprove of how Obama is handling the economy, and 83 percent describe the economy as "not so good" or "poor." Thirty percent say they are not so well-off since Obama became president, and 47 percent say they trust Mitt Romney to handle the economy—a statistical tie with the president, and a sign that voters have faith in Romney’s ability to get things done.

If you’re bullish on Obama, there’s evidence for your view as well. His approval rating is 47 percent, with 49 percent disapproval. According to the Washington Post’s election forecaster, if Obama maintains that approval rating through the summer—and if economic growth holds steady at an average rate of 2 percent—then he has an 84.4 percent chance of winning the majority share of the two-party vote. Yes, he’s tied with Romney in terms of who could best handle the economy, but he leads the Republican nominee in terms of who could best create jobs, 47 percent to 44 percent. Forty-eight percent say that Obama better understands the economic problems people are having (compared to 40 percent for Romney), 47 percent say that he best represents their values, and 52 percent say that he has the personal character to serve as president. What’s more, in a sign Obama’s messaging has resonated with the public, 56 percent say that economic unfairness is a bigger problem than overregulation.

On the whole, I’m inclined to view this poll as a sign of possible bad things for Obama. The public is polarized on its assessment of the president—Democrats love him, Republicans hate him, and the small middle is undecided. He doesn’t have much room for growth, and under the right circumstances, can take a plunge. Romney, on the other hand, has the space to grow, and if he can focus his message on the economy—and convince voters of his competence–then he’ll have a chance with those voters who doubt Obama’s ability to improve things for the better.