As Romney stumbles, Obama regains his mojo

September 24, 2012

The recent shifts in the polls may be less about Mitt Romney than they are about President Obama.

We have been documenting for a few days how Obama has consistently risen in polls of swing states -- in many of them by several points -- to the point where Romney trails basically everywhere that matters.

And everyone, it seems, wants to blame it on Romney.


But as much as Romney might have hurt himself in recent weeks with his stumbles (read: Libya, "47 percent"), it's also clear that the inverse has been happening: Obama, to some extent, has regained his own mojo. And he's crossed a pretty significant threshold in doing so.

As GOP12's Christian Heinze notes this morning, nine of 13 national polls conducted this month have shown Obama cracking 50 percent approval, compared to just one poll in August. Even Gallup's daily tracking poll, which had shown Obama's approval rating dropping into the 40's again after his post-convention bounce, today has him at 51 percent approval.

It has been a long time since Obama has earned the approval of half of Americans. In the five-month period between April 1 and Aug. 31, according to Real Clear Politics, only six nonpartisan polls (out of four dozen) showed Obama cracking 50 percent.

And really, there is no more important number in this election (including the unemployment rate) than a 50 percent approval rating.

For the Obama campaign, this race has been all about whether it could turn a referendum on his presidency into a choice between him and Romney -- whether it could convince swing voters who may not be happy with him that Romney would be a worse option.

If Obama's approval is 50 percent or above, though, that's kind of a moot point.

If half of Americans approve of the job that Obama is doing, then the only thing that would prevent him from getting their votes is if his opponent was even more attractive.

With Romney, that's not likely to be an issue. Romney's favorably rating has rarely risen above the mid-40's, which means that there really aren't many people who like both Obama and Romney and would be torn between the two.

It's very rare for a president -- or any politician, really -- to lose with an approval rating above 50 percent. Since World War II, no president with 50 percent approval has lost re-election, and George W. Bush and Harry Truman won reelection even though they were slightly under 50 percent on Election Day.

It's not exactly clear what's responsible for the uptick in Obama's approval rating, but polling suggests that he's closed the gap with Romney when it comes to who people trust to handle the economy. If, in fact, Obama's has restored some confidence in his economic stewardship -- whether at the Democratic National Convention or elsewhere -- that basically negates the major strike against his presidency and his candidacy.

Obama's approval rating will change by Election Day, but if it somehow manages to stay above 50 percent, it's hard to see what Romney's path to victory is.

Obama's rebounding approval rating -- even in the face of continued bad economic news -- is an undersold part of the current narrative in the 2012 campaign.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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