Democrats have been reminding fellow Democrats not to get so cocky in the wake of a Republican primary that seems to be turning many voters off. The fairly simple reason for that, which may be periodically forgotten as the Obama campaign builds their 2012 run — despite two months of relatively good economic news, President Obama has presided over three years of economic pessimism.
That’s not to say there isn’t data that shows voters still blame President Bush and the banks and other factors for the ‘Great Recession’ even more than they do Obama. But the President spent most of 2011 with a negative approval rating for a reason — the economic situation hasn’t completely turned around, and he’s had a few bruising legislative battles in between. So he’ll have to win votes again in 2012, not simply keep them.
But some of the underlying data shows things moving the President’s way. TPM has reported that his personal approval rating on the economy perked up from the dismal ratings he held through 2011 and much of 2010, although it’s still negative in our TPM Poll Average by six points. Now new numbers from Gallup show that forty percent of Americans believe that the economy is growing, versus 46 percent who think it’s still in a recession, a solid improvement over the 27 - 55 split from April 2011. From the polling organization:
Americans’ perceptions of the economy have been improving, but are still not positive on balance. That finding has been evident in Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index for some time, and is reinforced in this update of how Americans describe the current state of the economy.
The fact that the majority of Americans believe the economy is either slowing or in a recession/depression is out of sync with government data showing the U.S. economy has grown for 10 consecutive quarters, since the second half of 2009. However, that divergence is reminiscent of the public’s mood 20 years ago, when George H.W. Bush sought re-election as the country was coming out of a recession. Although the economy was demonstrably recovering in 1992, Americans still felt it was ailing, Bush failed to fully recognize that during his re-election campaign, and voters failed to reward him with a second term. There may be lessons in that for Obama to heed today.
However, the improving picture does seem to be brightening Americans’ view of the overall direction of the country. And in our TPM Poll Average of the Right Track/Wrong Track question, which diverged to epic levels in President Obama’s term, has tightened sharply in the last few months. It no surprise that with an election that will hinge mostly on domestic priorities that Americans are quick to react to good economic news — but important to remember that it favor could fall just as quickly.
Here’s the trend since the beginning of President Obama’s term.
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.