Maiello: Defeat the Press
Miami Fans Mistakenly Chant "Let's Go Eat" During Playoff Game
President Obama's re-election is becoming more likely. While the President's approval rating recently hit an all-time low of 38%, which was lower than most Presidents at this time in their first term, two realities are converging: (1) his approval has risen in key states, and also five points nationally since then; and (2) approval ratings are not presently as predictive of next November's vote as they used to be.
Obama's Boomlet in National Polls and Ohio Polls
The first point, the recent surge in national numbers, is striking. The national trend has flipped Obama's way in the last six weeks. From late September to late October, per Quinnipiac, Obama went from trailing Romney 46-42 nationally to leading 47-42. From early October to early November, NBC News/WSJ showed him moving from 46-44 up on Romney to 49-43. Gallup, my favorite source, showed Obama moving from down 50-42 to the Generic Republican in early October to up 48-45, an outcome that suggests Gallup would show him leading Romney by roughly six points. Gallup is very fond of noting that Presidential re-election is well-predicted by Presidential standing in the twelfth and thirteenth quarters of a first term, and Obama is in the middle of his twelfth quarter.
The national trend is reinforced by positive state outcomes that have surprised me, given the fairly stagnant approval numbers with which the President has been working. Obama has led Romney in the last three polls of Ohio, 45-41, per Quinnipiac, then 50-41 per PPP, then 45-42 per Quinnipiac. A Rocky Mountain poll showed Obama ahead of Romney 45-40 in Arizona. Rasmussen has Obama even with Romney in Virginia. A loss of any of these states would likely be fatal to Romney, assuming he is the nominee. (And if he's not, Obama is plastering the rest of the GOP field in Ohio, and even Florida.)
The Double-Negative Voter Steps Up
The second point I mentioned up top -- that approval ratings don't predict eventual votes as well as they used to -- flows from understanding the double-negative voter. Obama's recent surge highlights a point I have been making for a while, which is that voters who disapprove of both Obama and his Republican opposition (who I call double-negative voters) will likely decide the election. In PPP's 50-41 domination in Ohio by Obama, Obama's approval rating is net-negative, at 41/49. Juxtaposing those numbers should scare anyone who wants the President to lose. Likewise, while putting Obama up three points in Ohio, Quinnipiac has his approval rating net-negative at 44/50.
This is an angry electorate that disapproves partly of Obama but also of politics generally, and that feels failed not by one leader but by the system in general. And Mitt Romney looks like a worse option to enough of them that Obama is in the catbird's seat in Ohio if his approval rating hangs not at 50% but rather, in the low 40s. Think of that the next time a Scaife or Murdoch outlet pushes the meme that Obama is doomed because his approval is 42% or so and the electorate is angry about the economy.
The rise of the double-negative voter was foretold in 2004, when George W. Bush won 50.7% of the popular vote and the Presidential election while his approval rating languished in the forties. Voting is a binary choice among two potential Presidents, not the answer to a poll of approval of one (the referendum paradigm Nate Silver has spoken of lately). Nate has also written that the folk wisdom that Presidents must be sitting at a 50% approval rating to win re-election is overstated, and he is right. Obama is at 43%, and Congress is at 9%. And yet someone is going to be elected. With unemployment at 16% (including discouraged workers), an approval rating in the low 40s is deceptively strong.
Other Factors Tend To Predict a Further Obama Surge
There are several factors that cut in favor of Obama at this point. One is that the trend in his numbers is upward (his Gallup approval hit 44 earlier this week, well up from 38). Another is that, if polling is to be believed, he would lacerate any nonRomney Republican (such as Cain, Gingrich, or Unelectable Rick Perry), and Romney shows no sign of being able to put this race away. Indeed, if Cain would just drop out of the race, Gingrich's odds of winning the nomination would approach 50%. More on that soon. It may also be the case that the foibles of Cain and the lack of a true antiRomney are taking their toll on the GOP and how it is perceived in this race. Finally, Romney is a great salve for Obama in Ohio. While he hasn't connected as well with blue-collar Ohio as he has with, say, Michigan or even Wisconsin, billionaire hedge-funder Romney ("let [the market] hit bottom") is an almost ideally bad candidate for recession-battered Buckeyes. Ohio is down on John Kasich, as this week's decisive vote for unionism demonstrated, and as polls also show. That will buoy Obama in 2012, much as the Arizona poll above reflects anger at the kind of extremism that got Russell Pearce, the Republican state Senate leader, recalled. Independents turn from that kind of thing. The Democratic left is more energized through Occupy, and class issues are coming to the fore, from the bottom up. This is also happening while the President is mounting a huge organizational and fundraising effort that should give him a marginal advantage, and in a polling environment where polls statewide races in 2010 overstated Republican performance.
The one factor that can work against Obama is the release later this month of the supercommittee's recommendations. If after that Obama is perceived as the Austerity-Champion-in-Chief, look at him to regress to his prior lows in popularity, and again drop below even odds for re-election. Yet as the frame for 2012 is cast, and with Bill Daley's role reduced, I would look for Obama to articulate a clearer message that is a starker contrast to that of Romney (or Gingrich) and Boehner. For all of these reasons, I presently view Obama's re-election as 70% likely, up 15% from a week ago, and likely to trend up further in the next sixty days.