Q&A: Why Is Obama Winning if We’re on ‘Wrong Track’?

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By Francis Wilkinson

A new Bloomberg News poll was published today with some unexpected results -- Obama leading Romney by 13. I talked to Bloomberg pollster Ann Selzer about it on the phone and we finished the conversation via e-mail.

Q&A with Bloomberg News pollster Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co.


FW: We've been hearing that June has been a terrible month for President Obama, now you come along with a new poll showing Obama clobbering Mitt Romney by 53-40. What gives?

AS: We looked at the numbers and went "Wow." It's a big improvement from our last poll, in March. But everything in this poll lined up with that poll. Other than the daily Gallup tracking poll, there haven't been many recent public polls to compare it with.

FW: What happened?

AS: Romney was damaged by the primary process and he has not really recovered in terms of favorability. His favorability is 39 percent, with 48 percent viewing him unfavorably.

FW: So the data are more suggestive of Romney's weakness than Obama's strength?

AS: Both candidates show weakness. The top line looks good for Obama but beneath is shaky ground. The candidates have been beating up each other saying the other is no good. That takes a toll.

FW: So we have voters opting for what they perceive to be the lesser of two evils?

AS: Not entirely. People have a sense that things are better. The gloom has bottomed out. When you ask if they're better off, an increasing number say yes. In fact, by 45 percent to 36 percent voters say they're personally better off. That's up from 38 percent saying they were better off in March and 27 percent saying so in September.

Now, if you ask if they are hopeful, voters say no. My interpretation of that is that "hope" is now a political word identified with Obama.

FW: But if they're more supportive of Obama, why are voters turned off by the word "hope?"

AS: It's like asking why people would favor re-electing Obama but say the country is headed in the wrong direction. There's not a full-on embrace of Obama; but he appears to have made a better case than Romney at this point.

FW: About that "wrong direction." In your poll, 62 percent of voters say the country is on the "wrong track" and only 31 say "right track." Those are terrible numbers for an incumbent. Normally, a high "wrong track" number correlates with "throw the bums out." Why do voters who think the country's on the wrong track nevertheless support the incumbent?

AS: The national economy is not stable -- they're not confident about it. But in their personal lives, they're starting to feel some recovery. In people's personal economy, they are feeling that things are better. It's worth noting that the price of gas has fallen 44 cents nationally since its peak in spring.

FW: Still that's a grim "wrong track" number for Obama isn't it?

AS: It ranks among historic lows. But I think that number encompasses more than the economy, it encompasses a national mood. No one will work with anyone in Washington. That number may not move to positive territory -- who knows? --maybe not for years. I think people can separate that from approval of the Barack Obama. His job approval is 53 percent now, the first time he's been above 50 in more than a year.

FW: So is this poll the definitive snapshot of U.S. politics as of June 20, 2012?

AS: Polls are variable. Things will change. We didn't have any red flag in here that said we have a bad poll. We have a surprising poll. June has been a bad month.  For Romney.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

-0- Jun/20/2012 17:03 GMT