The Washington Post

The single scariest number for President Obama in the Washington Post-ABC poll

There’s one number in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll that should send a chill up the collective spine of President Obama and his reelection team. That number? 76.

Signs are displayed outside of a foreclosed home in Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Seventy nine percent of people with a household income under $50,000 say the economy is still in a recession, the same number of people who make between $50,000 and $100,000 who believe it is. Seventy six percent of men say the economy is in recession while 75 percent of women say the same.

What the consistency of those numbers suggest is that the belief that the economy remains caught in recession are neither unique to people of a certain partisan bent or those of a particular demographic group. And that’s a problem for President Obama.

But wait, you say. The recession officially ended in June 2009. And, you add, the vast majority of people don’t even know that a recession is defined as “a period of general economic decline; typically defined as a decline in [Gross Domestic Product] for two or more consecutive quarters.”

True and true. And, in terms of politics, not terribly significant. As we have written many times before, the politics of the economy are dominated by perception not reality. If people feel like the economy is still in recession then it doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot whether economists agree or not.

And that’s why the fact that three-quarters of the American public think the economy is still struggling has to be of real concern for President Obama and his reelection campaign team. (Of course, there are other numbers out there that suggest economic confidence is strengthening.)

While the focus at the moment in the race is on the weaknesses/flaws of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as a candidate, there’s no one — in either party — that thinks the November election will be anything but an economy-dominated vote.

The onus in that sort of election falls on the incumbent to prove that what he’s done in the past four years has made a (positive) difference in average peoples’ lives. Romney can’t sit idly by in that debate but because he hasn’t served as president for these past four years, he has less of a burden of proof.

The Post-ABC numbers on the recession are a sobering reminder to the Obama team — who have enjoyed their best four months since the president’s first four months in office — that as the economy goes or, more accurately, how people perceive the economy goes, so goes his chance at a second term.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.


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