Unspoken but implicit in Mitt Romney’s run for the White House has been an expectation that the economy under President Obama will not improve dramatically by election day.
But if it does, what does Romney do?
It’s still a long way to November, but with voters suddenly feeling more confident about the economy, Romney’s chief line of attack — that his business experience gives him the requisite skills to put the country on the right financial track — is faltering. New numbers from a CBS News/New York Times survey show the candidate losing steam.
Thursday morning brought the news that weekly jobless claims were down to their lowest level since March 2008. General Motors, which survived only because of a government bailout (that Romney opposed), posted its largest annual profit in history. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics released data this week showing that new housing starts are picking up, moving away from the December slowdown. True, the economy is far from fully healthy or at full recovery, but continuing good economic news will make Romney’s message a harder sell.
Obama’s approval on the economy, which has been well under water for more than a year, is on its way back to even in the CBS/NYT numbers and elsewhere. The new data shows 44 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the economy against 50 percent who don’t, fueling the highest overall approval rating Obama’s had in the CBS/NYT numbers since the death of Osama bin Laden at 50 - 43.
The poll also included a question on whether the President has made any progress on fixing the economy. Only 42 percent said that he had, while 54 percent said no. But that was up from a 33 - 62 split in January, and miserable 28 - 67 split in the December CBS/NYT numbers. So he’s up 14 points in two months.
Here’s the TPM Poll Average of Obama’s economic rating since the beginning of his presidency.
And on the deeper data, you see a measure of attributes that might become liabilities for Romney. In the CBS/NYT data, 54 percent of Americans said that he favors the rich, 11 percent for the middle class, one percent the poor and 22 percent all equally. Obama had a more balanced spread: 20 percent said the rich, 19 for the middle class, 20 for the poor and 26 said he favors all equally. When asked whether either man “understands the needs and problems of people like you,” it’s no contest. Obama has a positive 54 - 42 split toward yes, while Romney is completely turned around — only 31 percent said he understands those sentiments, while 58 say he does not.
In a poll of always-crucial Ohio, Quinnipiac University asked registered voters whether Obama or Romney would be best to handle the economy. On the direct matchup, they nearly tied — 46 percent for Romney and 45 for Obama. Romney was up by eight on the question in Ohio just two months ago, before the first votes in the messy primary process had be cast.
A lot could change in the next 9 months, but right now the economic ground is certainly shifting in the president’s favor.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.