The Hill released a poll today which goes a long way to explain the challenge Barack Obama faces on his bid for reelection. The poll of likely voters found that 64% believe the current economic downturn is more severe than those in the past. Two-thirds, 66%, believe that the downturn is the result of bad policy decisions out of Washington. Worse, for Obama, though, is that a majority of voters put the blame for the downturn squarely on him.
53% of likely voters say, "Obama has taken the wrong actions and slowed the recovery down." Obama has constantly tried to shift the voters' anxiety about the economy to others, blaming Wall Street, Congress or even former President Bush for the economic troubles. But a plurality, 34%, say Obama is most to blame for the downturn. That view is even stronger among Independents, 37% of whom believe Obama's policies are most responsible.
We aren't digging far down the issue matrix here. The economic downturn is and will be the single most important issue on voters' minds when they go to the polls in November. Keep in mind, too, that the economy is very likely to deteriorate even more before election day. There is no sign of unemployment easing any time soon and corporate earnings, while generally meeting expectations in the 2nd Quarter, are estimated to be much lower in the 3rd.
We can also expect a surge in food prices over the next few months. A devastating drought in the Midwest and Plains has already pushed commodity food prices to levels not seen in years. A similar spike a few years ago set off world-wide food riots and led to the unpredictable unrest in the Middle East which has already toppled several regimes. A steeper surge in food prices this year could further destabilize countries already stretched by the global economic downturn.
Obviously, many of these latter developments are out of Obama's total control. But, if voters, as this poll suggests, already blame Obama for the current economic troubles, a continuing slowdown or even global unrest will likely reinforce rather than mitigate this view. It will also push all other issues even further down in voters' minds. It seems hard to believe that the economy could become even more important to voters, but that is the likely outcome as November approaches.
Another interesting thing we should note about this poll is that it uses a R+1 partisan screen. 35% of voters in the poll identify as GOP, 34% Democrat and 31% Independent. In 2004, the electorate split was even. In 2008, the electorate was D+7 and in 2010 Midterms, the electorate was slightly more GOP. It is certain that the electorate will not be as Democrat as in 2008, but its too early to tell if an R+1 electorate is too optimistic for the GOP.
However, even allowing that the poll sample might be slightly favorable towards GOP, the overall numbers here are a bad sign for the Obama campaign. When two-thirds of voters blame "bad policies" for the economic downturn, a one or two point skew in a poll is the least of your troubles.
Obama built this economy. And the voters know it.