Americans are growing more dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and say it will be hard to vote to re-elect him without seeing significant progress over the next year and a half.
By a margin of 61 percent to 37 percent, a Bloomberg National Poll conducted June 17-20 shows Americans say they believe that Obama will have had his chance to make the economy “substantially better” by the end of 2012.
Only 30 percent of respondents said they are certain to vote for the president and 36 percent said they definitely won’t. Among likely independent voters, only 23 percent said they will back his re-election, while 36 percent said they definitely will look for another candidate.
“As far as the economy goes, I don’t see that he has delivered on the change that he promised,” said Sharon Ortiz, a 38-year-old independent voter from Hampton, Virginia, who supported Obama in 2008. “The jobs that he promised -- I haven’t seen it.”
At the same time, Americans are skeptical that Republican control of the White House and Congress will be a better prescription for their economic wellbeing. Sixty percent said that any Republican candidate will need to move so far to the right on fiscal and social issues to win their party’s nomination that it will be very hard to back the nominee.
Even so, the intensity among respondents who strongly agreed about judging Obama on his record of job creation was higher -- 45 percent versus 33 percent -- than those worried about a Republican nominee pushed to the right.
With unemployment and jobs ranking as the most important issue facing the country and lawmakers mired in debates to cut the nation’s long-term debt, the poll’s findings underscore a central challenge for Obama’s re-election team: making the 2012 campaign a choice between competing visions for the country’s future rather than a referendum on his job performance.
“So far Obama’s doing an OK job, not as great as I was hoping for,” said Pam Kaltenbach, 62, a Democratic voter from Chillicothe, Ohio, who supported Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008. “But now the Republicans don’t understand the working man. They don’t tax the rich more, they just want to take away the programs that are needed by the middle class.”
In the poll, 49 percent of respondents said they’re worried about Republicans gaining control of the White House and Congress and following through on pledges to slash funding for benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid, outnumbering the 40 percent who said they are concerned about another term for Obama and a continuation of current spending policies. Among independents, 47 percent said they are worried about a Republican takeover compared with 37 percent who are concerned about maintaining the status quo.
“I still want them to cut the deficit and debt, but it’s been growing for years,” said Mark Rawls, 44, an independent voter from Orlando, Florida. “If you cut the deficit now, you might cut the legs of people who are trying to get jobs and on Medicare.”
The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted by Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Obama’s ratings dip is reminiscent of former President Ronald Reagan’s early years in office when he was struggling to manage a slowing economy. Seventeen months before Election Day, Reagan’s presidential approval rating was 43 percent -- and he won a second term in a landslide. Obama’s overall job approval stands at 49 percent, with 44 percent disapproving.
The only performance category in which Obama’s approval ratings were higher than his disapproval ratings was dealing with terrorism. Less than two months after the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, 69 percent of Americans -- including 51 percent of Republicans -- said they approved of his performance on terrorism, while 27 percent didn’t.
With the president poised to announce his plans for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the poll found that 53 percent of Americans support a gradual pullout over the next couple years compared to 30 percent who want them to come home immediately.
It’s the Economy
Ultimately, the survey showed, Obama’s presidential campaign will hinge on whether the economy improves rather than national security issues.
Recent data shows the recovery losing steam and, with a jobless rate of 9.1 percent, the president has few fiscal options to stimulate the economy. Lawmakers are debating how to cut the nation’s long-term deficits and raise the $14.3 trillion debt-ceiling.
Vice President Joe Biden is leading talks with congressional leaders to reach a deal on reducing the federal-debt ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline, when the Treasury Department projects the government risks defaulting on its obligations -- which Obama has warned would be “disastrous.”
Republicans are insisting on trillions of dollars in savings and no tax increases in exchange for a vote to increase the debt ceiling. Democrats have refused to allow major cuts to the Medicare government health insurance program for the elderly, which is contributing to the debt.
Americans are split, 45 percent to 46 percent, on whether Republicans should hold out for more spending cuts even if the delay leads the government to default on its obligations. Only 19 percent say such an outcome would be catastrophic, suggesting such warnings from lawmakers, economists and Wall Street executives aren’t resonating with the public. Still, 52 percent of Americans say a default would be a serious problem.
“Maybe I don’t really understand what all that means if the U.S. defaults, but I do know the other route and I do know what that means,” said Jerry Reynolds, 66, a Democratic voter from Apache Junction, Arizona, who won’t vote again for Obama. “They need to do more on this budget, they need to quit spending money on these wars that are not doing us any good. It’s costing us people and its costing us money.”
By a slight margin, Republicans would be held more accountable than Obama should the financial markets fall as a result of a failure to raise the debt ceiling. Forty-four percent said they would fault Republicans for digging in their heels on spending cuts, while 41 percent would blame Obama for resisting their demands.
Economy Performance Ratings
Obama’s performance ratings drop significantly when the focus turns to his management of the economy, jobs and deficits. By a margin of 61 percent to 32 percent, Americans disapprove of the job Obama is doing to tackle the budget deficit. Fifty-seven percent of respondents disapproved of his efforts to create jobs and overall 57 percent disapproved of his handling of the economy.
“I voted for him in 2008 because of the financial crisis, the housing crisis and he was new and fresh and it seemed like he had energy and ideas to make headway in this,” said Rawls. “He needs to bring the unemployment numbers down.”