Bill Galston offers a much, much better and more even-handed look at Obama’s prospects for reelection. Worth reading the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does often rhyme. If economic growth averages 4 percent between now and November 2012, unemployment falls to 7.3 percent, and the real per capita income of average families grows by 3 percent, Obama will be the odds-on favorite for reelection against any Republican. Conversely, if growth languishes, unemployment remains close to its current level, and per capita income doesn’t improve perceptibly, Obama will probably lose to a credible Republican—especially if he also faces stubbornly high gas prices. But if the overall economic picture is between the best and worst case, which is what the consensus of economic forecasters now predicts, the election will be close, campaign themes and tactics will influence the outcome, and the identity of the Republican nominee will matter hugely.
Here’s what the numbers show right now, leading into Obama’s speech on long-term fiscal policy. His approval rating averages about 47 percent—not bad, but not good enough to prevail in the general election. A number of surveys indicate that more people like the president personally than like his policies. In the most recent Pew survey, for example, while 47 percent approved of his overall performance as president, his favorable rating on handling the economy was 39 percent; energy policy 40 percent; the budget deficit a woeful 33 percent. And remarkably, when it comes to the deficit, young voters aged 18 to 29—the cohort most favorably disposed to Obama—are even more critical, with only 29 percent approving.
When people are asked to think about Obama’s reelection in broad terms, additional evidence of potential vulnerability emerges. In recent months, a number of national surveys have posed similar versions of the question: Do you think Barack Obama has done well enough to deserve reelection, or would the country be better off with someone else? The “well enoughs” average about 43 percent; the “someone elses” 49 percent.
When framed in terms of head-to-head competition between the president and a generic Republican, Obama also appears vulnerable. In the 14 national surveys conducted over the past two months, Obama averages about 44 percent, the unnamed Republican about 41 percent. Seven of these surveys show the president in the lead, four give the challenger an edge, and three are tied.