Why the weak economy hasn’t (yet) doomed Obama

LesWaggoner BN 1 2012/09/09 20:50:48

By Greg Sargent

Why isn’t Mitt Romney winning by now, given the painful sluggishness of the recovery, upside-down right-track-wrong-track numbers, and Obama’s high disapproval on the economy?

For many analysts, that’s the key question. Charlie Cook has decided Romney is not leading because he failed to develop a positive vision of himself. Sean Trende, meanwhile, says the answer is that the economy isn’t as bad as it was in 1980, or even in 2008.

Here’s my own unscientific answer. It’s grounded in a nuance I believe is central to the Obama campaign’s understanding of the race: The distinction between whether voters have decided Obama has failed, or whether they have decided he has merely disappointed them by falling short of expectations, an outcome these voters have come to see as understandable, given the circumstances.

Republicans will scoff at this distinction. To them, the idea that voters have decided Obama is an abject failure is as self-evident as the color of the sky. One GOP strategist captured this well: “If you’re just telling people that Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing, you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know.”

But this may reflect what Jonathan Bernstein has described as the “conservative closed information feedback loop,” in which the widespread presumption that swing voters see Obama in the same terms conservatives do precludes a clear-eyed assement of real voter perceptions. To be clear, undecided voters may still end up deciding Obama’s failure is sufficiently evident that it merits casting him out. But it’s not clear they have decided he failed yet, and dismissing this as a factor misses what may be the real reason the economy has yet to doom Obama — and why he may be able to prevail in spite of it.

Republicans often acknowledge that voters appreciate the scale of the mess Obama inherited. But they quickly rejoin that what matters is how he responded to it, and therein lies his “extraordinary record of failure,” as Romney has put it. But if undecided voters don’t see things this way, and instead believe Obama has disappointed them for somewhat understandable reasons, this should change how we think about the race.

Here’s why: It’s very plausible that in spite of their own disappointment, voters have adjusted their expectations downward as to what presidents can do for this economy as they came to appreciate the magnitude of the crisis. This came up again and again in conversations that Ron Brownstein, Matthew Dowd, and yours truly had with undecided voters. These voters are unhappy with Obama. But they have not yet decided Obama’s approach is discredited. Their declining expectations have left them open to the argument that even if they disapprove of the current economy under Obama, Romney doesn’t have the answer either, and that Obama's approach still has a better chance of bearing fruit over time.

Indeed, it’s not clear either candidate has won the argument about the economy. In the latest Post poll, Romney holds a seven point advantage on the generic question of who should be trusted on the economy. But it also finds that the two are tied on which man’s election will result in an improved economy. Forty three percent say they are confident the economy will get on track of Obama is reelected; 56 percent say they are not. The numbers for Romney? A virtually identical 43-55. And a majority says spending more on infrastructure, rather than cutting taxes, is the way to create jobs, 52-33. Public opinion is conflicted and in flux; expectations have been revised downward; no one has won the argument about the way forward yet.

If these voters had decided Obama’s approach has been discredited, they’d be willing to change course pretty much no matter what. But they just aren’t there yet. And this may be the key reason why Romney hasn’t taken the lead. Failing to appreciate this nuance — and operating from the assumption voters think Obama is an abject failure — could prove a miscalculation. It could lead Romney to overestimate voter disagreement with Obama’s ideas and vision; to imagine he needs to do less to articulate an alternative vision of his own; to underestimate Obama’s chances of fighting him to a draw on the economy; and to downplay the importance other issues — as well as the tattered GOP brand — could have at the margins if Obama does manage that.

I don’t have scientific proof this is how undecided voters widely see the race, which remains a toss up. But I believe this theory is central to the Obama campaign’s view of things, on how to close this out, and on why he could still survive.

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  • La 2012/09/19 05:03:10
    Mhm, good article. I think that's exactly the point. Obama hasn't worked miracles but would the country be any better if McCain had got in? >.>
  • LesWagg... La 2012/09/19 06:17:00
    LesWaggoner BN 1
    Congress would have been willing to work with McCain. When 98% of our elected Republicans and three Democrats in congress have signed a pledge to make sure that not one additional dollar is taken in by the federal government it displays a definite lack of intelligence.
    This economic situation cannot be resolved without spending money on job creation and help for small businesses. I think it will take another $1 trillion to get the economy righted.
  • La LesWagg... 2012/09/20 12:04:01
    Mhm, I think the lack of cooperation between the parties is the main hindrance to an improved economy, and if that doesn't change it doesn't matter which party is in.
  • flaca BN-0 2012/09/10 02:18:26
    flaca BN-0
    1. A majority of people don't blame Obama for the economy (guess why: it happened before he came to power)
    2. Romney has no specifics as to how he could do better: he just says he can (the electorate are not that stupid)
    3. Romney chose not to invest in America: he put money abroad.
    4. Republicans blame Obama too much even though they all took stimulus, many voted for it, and even their VP voted for stuff that Romney says is bad. This makes them look disorganized and ridiculous.
  • Al B Thayer 2012/09/09 21:04:23 (edited)
    Al B Thayer
    Libturds are willing to walk into hell for an Obama cause. They have been convinced rich people are bad. Corporations are bad, even though they work for them. Free stuff will never run out. Rich people can pay. No skin off their teeth. Government jobs, union jobs go go go.
  • LesWagg... Al B Th... 2012/09/09 21:22:25
    LesWaggoner BN 1
    Stooping to name calling and insults do not indicate a high level of intelligence.

    I live on Social Security so, in your opinion, I am on the government dole. Let's raise YOUR taxes so that we can supplement corporate greed.

    I am willing to give up 5% of my SS income to help get the economy jump started. Are you willing to pay 5% more on your income?
    corporate greed 5 ss income economy jump pay 5 income
  • ken LesWagg... 2012/09/09 21:26:30
    You paid for it, it's your money.
  • LesWagg... ken 2012/09/09 21:40:19
    LesWaggoner BN 1
    That isn't what the conservatives are telling me. Ask Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney.
  • ken LesWagg... 2012/09/09 21:48:38
    None of them are gonna touch any money from anyone over 55. At least that's the number being tossed about the last 25 years or so that SS has been a hot political topic. By both parties.
  • LesWagg... ken 2012/09/09 22:28:38
    LesWaggoner BN 1
    That's BS.
    If Romney overturns Obamacare he will immediately restore the donut hole for prescriptions and free preventive care.
    My wife and I live with the equivalent of "Obamacare".in Costa Rica except that here it is a single payer program. We pay nothing for our medications and take full advantage of preventive care.
    Preventive care saves a lot of cost on emergency care.
  • Al B Th... LesWagg... 2012/09/09 23:20:29
    Al B Thayer
    First off name calling only pertains to one directed at a poster.
    Second SS is not living off the government dole. Of which I did not mention. We pay into SS for very good reason. People like me want to make it last and make it better. Are you for real or do you just want to pick a fight. Care to retract your rant?
  • LesWagg... Al B Th... 2012/09/10 00:01:16
    LesWaggoner BN 1
    Name calling pertains to those who call names. Period.
  • Al B Th... LesWagg... 2012/09/10 00:15:24
    Al B Thayer
    Your prolly not going to convince me. But you could get some mileage from the name Libturd if you didn't try to turn talking points from the left into something Romney is going to do. You could just be a Democrat.
  • Rebel Yell 2012/09/09 21:01:07
    Rebel Yell
    They have put Willard in some mom jeans ( perfectly creased), a checkered shirt even has the top button open, mussed his hair a bit, and he's trying for some jokes he thinks middle classers will like. This must be the " Mitt unzipped" version wife Ann mentioned. Of yeah, he's really getting down.

    The man is not likeable or genuine.
  • ken 2012/09/09 20:52:02
    Pretty simple answer. Obama is winning the propaganda war.

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