The Washington Post

Obama’s economic problem. In a single number.

President Barack Obama pauses during a town hall meeting, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, at Wyffels Hybrids Inc., in Atkinson, Ill., during his three-day economic bus tour. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

One in an occasional series of posts looking at the most important number in politics; check out past “MINP’s” here.


New polling from Gallup shows that only one in four Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing with the nation’s economy, a number that marks a lowpoint for the president and makes clear the challenge before him as he turns to his re-election bid in 2012.

The poll, which was in the field from Aug. 11-14, showed just 26 percent of people approving of Obama’s handling of the economy while a whopping 71 percent disapproved.

The Obama economic approval number has tumbled 11 points since mid-May and is well below his previous nadir — 35 percent in November 2010 — on the question.

The backdrop to these dismal numbers? President Obama heading off on vacation even as the stock market continues its wild ride — down several hundred points at the moment.

In short: Obama has a major political problem on his hands.

Digging into the Gallup data makes clear the deep political challenges for Obama when it comes to the economy.

Less than three in ten people approve of his handling of job creation (29 percent) and the federal budget deficit (24 percent) — numbers that suggest there is nowhere Obama can go on fiscal matters where he will be on solid political ground.

Among electorally critical independents, the numbers were equally grim for Obama. Just 24 percent of independents approved of his handling of the job creation issue while 23 percent said he was handling the economy well. Nineteen percent offered kudos for his approach to the federal budget deficit.

Those numbers undoubtedly landed with a major thud at Obama’s Chicago campaign headquarters as he has made courting independent voters a top priority since Democratic setbacks at the ballot box in the November 2010 midterm elections.

The silver lining for Obama — and there is usually some kind of silver lining — is that most polling we’ve seen still lays the blame for our current economic morass at the feet of people other than him.

In a recent McClatchy-Marist poll, nearly six in ten voters said the nation’s economic problems were something Obama had inherited while 33 percent said he bore primary responsibility for them.

And, in a Washington Post surveyconducted earlier this month more than six in ten respondents said Obama had either “made progress” (19 percent) or “tried but failed” on solving the major issues facing the country. Less than half said the same of Republicans.

The question is whether the next 15 months change that equation — whether the intense scrutiny of a presidential campaign coupled with the monthly drumbeat of economic numbers that even Obama allies acknowledge won’t be stellar transfer blame to the current occupant of the White House.

If that happens, Obama could be in for a very rough battle for a second term — almost regardless of who Republicans eventually nominate.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.


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