Judging from the coverage of the presidential race over the past few weeks — questions about Mitt Romney’s staff, his exact departure date from Bain Capital and whether or not he should release his tax returns — you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s time for President Obama to break out the champagne and start celebrating his likely re-election in November.
But to draw that conclusion ignores the broader currents at work in the political waters, currents that will make it very tough for President Obama to win a second term almost no matter what Romney does between now and this fall.
Once you step back from the day to day knife fight of the campaign — and make no mistake that Obama is getting in more and better swipes than Romney at this point — you’re reminded that the overarching dynamic of this race is the sputtering economy and a continued lack of confidence within the electorate that things are or will get better.
Two charts tell that story — and make clear why any celebrating among Obama partisans is premature.
The first is Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index — an average of peoples’ current economic outlook and what they think the future holds — that, as of this week, sits at -27. That’s the lowest the number has been since late January and is part of a prolonged negative confidence dip that began in late May.
The second chart comes courtesy of James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute and details the correlation between the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment rating and president’s re-election percentages.
The chart makes clear that Obama’s score on the Michigan Consumer Sentiment chart (currently in the low 70s) — puts him in the ignominious company of people like George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Both of those men lost their reelection bids. (Worth noting: The Bush and Carter scores were as of October of their reelection years, meaning Obama has some time still to improve his number.)
It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture amid the daily brawl of the campaign. And, candidates and campaigns absolutely do matter — and right now Obama has the edge on that front.
But as these two charts make clear the ground on which this campaign is and will almost certainly continue to be fought is shaky (at best) for Obama.