Reëlection Watch: March 2012
At least once every month between now and the general election, we examine the reëlection landscape for President Barack Obama. Each time, we take a look at the various factors that typically influence election outcomes, and compare them to the previous month.
So, how are things going for the President? This month’s answer may surprise you.
Last month, I noted that we needed to watch out for the impact of rapidly rising oil prices. Sure enough, the price spikes at the gas pumps are pushing Obama’s approval ratings down, and his disapproval ratings up. This month, the Real Clear Politics average shows Obama’s approval/disapproval rating back in negative territory, with a –0.8 +2.1 point spread. This is a nearly three-point drop from last month, and marks the first month of a drop, after four straight positive months.
The Right Track/Wrong Track polls have seen a similar, albeit less pronounced trend. This month the spread grew by 0.9 points to −26.9. This time, this poll understates the worsening of the President and Congress; Congress’s spread worsened by 0.9 points to −71.2. The generic Congressional ballot shifted back to the red column this month, moving 1.2 points to R+0.5. In all, it has not been a good month for Obama or Congressional Democratic incumbents.
As of yesterday, Intrade had Obama at a 60.9 percent chance of reëlection, up 1.2 points from last month. Obama’s position has been steadily improving for six straight months, and is again at his 26-week high. That said, after a month of being well ahead of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in individual head-to-head polls, the differential has narrowed considerably, now back within the margin of error, though centered on a slight Obama lead.
After several months considering other candidates as viable alternatives to Romney, this time I’m leaving him standing alone. The odds of any other candidate clinching the nomination are now very small.
Overall, things look mixed for the President, and are trending negatively. Red arrow this time.
While there’s scant evidence of a Romney Romp to the convention, it seems as if the path to Romination is long and slow. Many Republicans are prone to point to the 2008 Democratic battle between Obama and then-Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as evidence that a long nomination process is not damaging. This is true on its face; the issue isn’t the length of the nomination, but rather the satisfaction of party members with the eventual nominee, even if they preferred someone else. Democrats tended to be pleased that they had two good choices, and so most Hillary supporters’ disappointment was mild. The same does not appear to be the case among Republicans, many of whom are vehemently opposed to Romney, and will be severely disappointed (or even angered) by his eventual nomination. It is in this arena that the 2008 comparison breaks down.
Regardless, Romney has long been the candidate who polls best against Obama (at least in national polls), and his polls against Obama have been rising this past month. If Romney were the Republican nominee today, and the general election were to happen today, polls indicate an extremely close race.
Last month, Obama earned a solid green arrow here. This month, it’s back to gray ball land.
The past month looks good, though with the same red flag as last month.
Employment has looked good of late. ADP reported the 23rd straight month of increased employment, this time with an increase of over 250,000 jobs from December to January. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated an additional 227,000 in February. On the other hand, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged in February from January. It’s been over two years and counting since the unemployment rate has risen. Retail sales rose 1.1 percent in Feburary, after a 0.6 percent rise in January, suggesting strength in the core economy. The unexpected good news sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a new Obama-administration high, and the highest seen since the last day of trading for 2007.
On the other hand, West Texas Intermediate crude is trading at about $107, up almost three percent from last month, while Brent crude (representing the European market) has risen twice as quickly over that time. Though rises in oil prices are often lagging indicators of increased economic activity, this time it appears to be more due to the growing uncertainty of the situation in Iran than to a growing economy, something I noted last month. Again, this suggests that we’re going to have some more drag on the economy in the next few months, which could dampen or even reverse the current economic exuberance. If nothing else, it has already impacted Obama’s approval ratings, and probably his polling against Romney.
Most indicators are still looking good, so it’s a green arrow this month. But those still-rising oil prices could indicate storm clouds on the horizon. This is something to watch out for.
There’s been plenty going on in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, and North Korea, yet they don’t seem to be having an impact on Obama’s reëlection prospects.
With this past month being a big yawner in the “other factors” category, it’s another gray ball month here.
The Electoral College
This is the second month that we’re looking at the Electoral College.
Here’s what’s changed since last month’s battleground, from most likely to go Romney’s way to most likely to go Obama’s way:
- Pennsylvania is getting bluer. Polls over the past month show a consistent Obama lean, just outside the margin of error. Pennsylvania gets a blue tint this month.
- Virginia’s polling has also improved for Obama this past month, and looks as good as Pennsylvania.
- Ohio had a new poll of registered voters this month from NBC News/Marist, which gave Obama the lead by a dozen points over Romney, and even more over the other Republican candidates. This is an Obama lean even taking into account the typical enthusiasm gap between the parties.
- Wisconsin’s recent polls show a stronger Obama lean than in Ohio.
I’m not trying to bias the results here; there really were no battleground states that moved in Romney’s direction. That said, we’re still getting light polling from those states; many have simply not been polled over the past month.
If we do include Pennsylvania in the lean category, Obama gets 278 electoral votes, enough for a win. The first three states in the above list are just barely on the lean side of the dividing line, though, so such a prediction is tenuous at best.
Here’s how things look overall.
|Area||Effect||Change from Last Month|
|The Electoral College|
Obama’s had quite a few good months in a row. Based on the Electoral College, this month should be a slam-dunk for a green arrow. But the election isn’t being held today; it’s in a little over seven months. And the longer-term indicators are pointing negative. Because of the competing short– and long-term indicators, I’m giving this month an overall gray ball. We’ll have to see how things pan out.
- Reëlection Watch: February 2012(logarchism.com)
- Obama approval rating plunges to 41%: Poll — Canada.com(canada.com)
- Did Obama’s Approval Rate Really Collapse?(politicalwire.com)
- Obama’s approval rating up to 50 percent: Reuters/Ipsos poll — Reuters(reuters.com)
- Reuters/Ipsos Poll: Obama Approval Up to 50%(littlegreenfootballs.com)
- Obama’s Rating Falls as Poll Reflects Volatility — New York Times(nytimes.com)
- Obama Approval Down, Republicans Gain in Poll(ibtimes.com)
- Obama’s Approval Rating Plunges Below 50 Percent(blippitt.com)
- CBS/NYT poll: Obama’s approval ratings upside-down(politico.com)