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Recession is political reality. Really.

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In a new Bloomberg News national poll, nearly seven in ten people said that “it still feels like we are in a recession” despite that the fact that the country technically emerged from that economic slide more than two years ago.

President Obama is struggling with the lingering perception that the country remains in an economic recession. (Bradley C. Bower/Bloomberg)

That number paints a stark — and sobering — political reality for the Obama White House, which desperately needs some signs of strength from the economy and optimism from the American public in advance of the president’s re-election race next fall.

As we have written many times in the past, perception often fuels political reality when it comes to the economy.

If people don’t feel as though things are getting better in their own lives, they are not likely to say the broader economy is turning around — even if there is evidence (unemployment rate, job creation numbers etc.) that progress is being made.

That “perception=reality” problem is interspersed throughout the Bloomberg poll, which was conducted by the incomparable J. Ann Selzer.

Not only did 68 percent of respondents say that it still feels like America is in the midst of recession, another 18 percent said that “the economy is faltering and we will fall back into a recession”. For you non-math majors out there, that’s nearly nine in ten Americans who believe we are either a) in what feels like a recession or b) will be soon.

Couple that with the 72 percent of people in the Bloomberg survey who say the country is off on the wrong track, the 33 percent who approve of the job President Obama is doing on the economy and the 44 percent who say they are “worse off” they they were at the beginning of 2009 and it becomes readily apparent that the continued economic struggles in the country are having a decidedly negative impact on President Obama’s chances at re-election in 2012.

The economic perception problem creates a dual-pronged political issue for Obama and his 2012 campaign team.

Not only does the president need the economy to get better, he needs it to happen well in advance of the election. The perception of the economy’s health will be a lagging indicator — as it always is — of the actual strength (or weakness) of the economy.

Given that, Obama has to hope that tangible signs of an economic strengthening begin to emerge in the near future and that those tangible signs lead to a change in perception about the state of the economy prior to the fall of 2012.

Yes, the election — as President Obama has taken to reminding people of late — is 14 months away. But perception in politics changes at a glacially slow pace and for a White House looking at an economic referendum election in 2012 there’s no time like the present.

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

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