His potential Republican opponents fell all over themselves to blast the President for the latest dismal jobs report. “The White House has turned the audacity of hope into the audacity of indifference,” said former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann called the report a “stark reminder of the failure of President Obama’s economic policies.”
And yet, for all of the political doom and gloom directed at the White House, there remains a somewhat remarkable fact that provides some silver lining for Obama: people still don’t blame him for the current state of the economy.
In a New York Time/CBS News poll conducted late last month just eight percent of respondents blamed Obama for the condition of the economy.
More than a quarter (26 percent) cited the Bush administration as the prime cause of the economic woes while 25 percent named Wall Street and 11 percent said Congress was to blame.
Those numbers are largely unchanged from a NYT/CBS poll conducted in March 2010 where the economic blame game broke down this way: Bush Administration 28 percent, Wall Street 22 percent, Congress 10 percent, Obama Administration 8 percent.
Polling conducted by the Washington Post/ABC last fall affirms the same sense that people don’t lay the blame of the current economic situation primarily at Obama’s feet.
Asked whether the Bush’s administration “inadequate regulation of the financial industry” or the Obama administration “not doing enough to turn the economy around” were to be blamed, 60 percent said Bush deserved either a “great deal” or “good amount” of blame while 42 percent said the same of Obama.
Obama and his political team have been aggressive at pushing the storyline that he inherited an economy in free fall from President Bush and did the best he could under dire circumstances to save the country from a far worse fate.
“We’ve added more than two million new private sector jobs over the past 16 months but the recession cost us more than eight million,” Obama said in remarks following the release of the jobs report today. “And that means we still have a big hole to fill.”
While the poll numbers make clear that voters don’t yet blame President Obama for the state of the economy, that doesn’t mean he and his political aides shouldn’t be worried by the continuing struggles of the economy.
Remember that almost every presidential campaign involving an incumbent is a referendum on his first four years in office. And, for Obama, the dominant issue of those four years will be the state of the economy.
Even if people believe on election day 2012 that he doesn’t deserve the lion’s share of blame for the country’s economic woes, they will still likely be voting primarily on the economy. So, while Obama continues to get a pass on creating the economic problems, he’s not likely to get one if he can’t point to tangible evidence that what he has done is starting to solve them.
And, the general lack of blame for Obama may also have something to do with the fact that there hasn’t been a high-profile Republican prosecuting the economic case against the incumbent over the past few years.
(Yes, we know that people like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been attacking Obama’s handling of the economy for months but neither of them is well known to your average voter.)
That will change when Republicans pick their presidential nominee sometime in the late winter/early spring of next year. What will follow is an eight-month campaign — by the Republican candidate and various GOP outside groups — aimed at highlighting some of the more dismal economic numbers of the Obama presidency. (Need a taste of what’s to come? Check out the latest ad from the conservative-aligned Crossroads GPS.)
That the economic blame game has yet to fall heavily on President Obama affords him some time to begin showing voters why what he has done over the past few years is working.
More job reports like the one released Friday morning, however, and President Obama may find blame landing more and more at his feet as the 2012 election draws closer.