President Obama’s ‘are you better off’ problem

at 06:30 AM ET, 09/06/2011


President Obama speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House last month. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Every re-election race — from city council to president — ultimately comes down to a simple question: Are you better off than you were (fill-in-the-blank) years ago?

To win, the incumbent has to convince a majority of voters that the answer to that question is “yes” (or that it will be “yes” in the not-too-distant future).

As of today, according to new polling conducted by the Washington Post/ABC News, nearly nine in 10 adults say they are either “about the same”(50 percent) or worse off (35 percent) financially than they were four years ago. Just 15 percent describe themselves as “better off”.

And that is a major problem for President Obama heading into his re-election race next fall.

The president has argued — and will continue to make the case — that he inherited an economy on the verge of collapse and took a number of actions to simply keep the country’s finances afloat.

Obama has acknowledged that the economic doldrums have lasted longer than anyone expected while also trying to convince the public that better times lie ahead. He’ll try to make that case again Thursday night when he delivers what his administration is billing as a major jobs speech to a joint session of Congress.

But the Post/ABC poll suggests that Obama has his work cut out for him. Among electorally critical independents, more than one in three (36 percent) said they were in worse financial shape than four years ago — double the percentage who said they felt that they were in better shape.

Even among his base of self-identified Democrats, the “are you better off” numbers are far from encouraging for Obama; 17 percent said they were better off than four years ago while 18 percent said they were worse off and 65 percent said they were roughly in the same place financially.

And, while Obama continues to not bear the brunt of the blame for the current state of the economy, the new Post/ABC poll suggests that people don’t believe his solutions are helping matters.

Just 17 percent of adults said his economic programs were making things better, while double that amount — 34 percent — said he was making things worse. Another 46 percent said Obama’s policies had so far had little effect on the nation’s economy.

The numbers were even more bleak for Obama among independents; just 13 percent said his policies were making things better, as compared to 33 percent who said his programs were making things worse and 53 percent who said he was having no effect.

Viewed broadly, the two questions referenced above amount to a political double whammy for the president. Not only do people feel as though they are in worse shape financially than they were four years ago, but they also believe that Obama’s policies are either doing nothing or making things worse.

While presidents have won re-election amid tough economic times — FDR in 1936, Ronald Reagan in 1984 — in each of those cases there was a growing faith that the policies being pursued by the incumbents were beginning to make things better.

There’s no evidence of that type of thinking among voters in the new Post/ABC survey. That doesn’t mean Obama can’t rally the country behind his economic proposals between now and next November, but it does mean he hasn’t done so yet.

Numbers like those found in the poll should set off loud warning bells among the president’s political team. To win next year, Obama must find some way to convince the public that things are, in fact, getting (slightly) better and that the reason for that improvement is the policies he put in place over his first four years in office.

He’s not there yet. Or even close.

Arizona won’t set primary for January: The presidential primary calendar still begins in February, at least for now.

The first major domino in the front-loading of the primary calendar did not fall this weekend, after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) opted not to set her state’s primary for Jan. 31.

Brewer must set the primary date 150 days early, and despite threatening to leapfrog the early states and set the primary for Jan. 31, the deadline for doing so passed Saturday with no action.

Brewer appears to have been sated by a pledge from the national party to hold a presidential debate in her state instead. But as the details are being ironed out, Brewer is still threatening to move her state’s primary as early as early February. If she acts this week, she could still set it for before the Iowa caucus.

“Sometime after the 31st is still possible,” Brewer told the AP. “I’m going to keep looking at that, to see what fits our best interests.”

Arizona’s primary is currently set for Feb. 28, which is still in violation of Republican National Committee rules. For a look at where the other states stand, see our primer here.

Perry goes after Romney on jobs: The two frontrunners for the GOP presidential nomination have are starting to engage each other.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry offered some of the most direct criticism yet of Mitt Romney on Sunday, going after his record on jobs during his four years as governor of Massachusetts.

“There’s going to be some that get up and say ‘Well I’ve created jobs,’ and that’s true,” Perry said, according to ABC News. “There’s one in particular who’s created jobs all over the world, but while he was the governor of Massachusetts, he didn’t create very many jobs.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann digs at Romney’s health care bill. And former Utah governor Jon Huntsman releases a web video comparing their jobs records.

Top Bachamnn aides step aside: Bachmann’s campaign is facing significant staffing changes.

Campaign manager Ed Rollins will be taking on a lesser role, and deputy campaign manager David Polyansky is leaving the campaign outright.

Word from the Bachmann team late Monday was that this isn’t a major shakeup, but the campaign hasn’t capitalized on a strong showing at the Ames Straw Poll, and Bachmann is known for going through lots of staff.

Keep an eye on this evolving story.

Baldwin for Senate: As expected, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) has entered the open seat Senate race in Wisconsin, becoming the first major Democrat to do so.

The question now is whether Baldwin will face significant primary opposition. Her liberal bona fides and base of support in Madison will make her tough to beat for anybody.

At the same time, Baldwin will have to prove she is electable in the general election. She is one of the most liberal members of the House and would be the first openly gay senator.

Fixbits:

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) has endorsed Perry, as has South Carolina state Rep. Alan Clemmons (R), a Mormon who support Romney in 2008.

Perry did not take part in Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Palmetto Freedom Forum on Monday, citing the wildfires blazing in his homestate.

DeMint doesn’t think Sarah Palin will run for president.

DeMint says he probably won’t go to Obama’s jobs speech.

Jon Huntsman will appear on “The View.”

Teamsters president James Hoffa isn’t backing off his comments that labor should “take out” the tea party, whom he called “son-of-a-bitches.”

Texas Republicans are set to defend their redistricting maps in court.

A new University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll shows Perry and Romney neck and neck in the Golden State, while Bachmann lags far behind.

Must-reads:

Mitt Romney’s record in the ‘real economy’” — Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

Romney courts tea partiers, from a distance” — Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post

Two former Democratic aides raise a Ruckus” — Nathan Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call

Postmaster Donahoe to beg Congress for Postal Service’s life” — Joe Davidson, Washington Post

Obama’s summer blues” — Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast

How closed primaries further polarize our politics” — Mark A. Siegel, Washington Post

 
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