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Obama Faces Challenging Re-Election Climate

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PRINCETON, NJ -- The U.S. political and economic environment at the start of 2012 is a challenging one for President Barack Obama as he seeks re-election. However, Gallup trends suggest that it is too soon to make any firm predictions about the outcome.

The following is a rundown of where some key indicators stand in January, and how trends today compare to years when previous incumbents sought re-election.

Presidential Job Approval

Obama's job approval rating has averaged 44% in Gallup Daily tracking since the start of January. That is below the approval rating of seven out of eight previous incumbents at a comparable point in their presidencies. It exceeds the ratings of only one -- Bill Clinton -- in early January 1996.

With five of the eight former presidents who sought re-election -- George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson -- winning a second term, and three -- George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford -- losing, the January approval ratings do not appear to be strongly predictive of the election outcome.

However, by March of the re-election year, approval ratings for all of the prior presidents largely portended their fate. Ford's, Carter's, and the elder Bush's March ratings were all well below 50%, while Clinton's, Reagan's, Nixon's, and Johnson's were above that mark. George W. Bush's rating was 49%, right on the cusp of the level Gallup considers determinant for re-election

U.S. Satisfaction

Americans' overall satisfaction with the direction of the country has varied considerably over the three-plus decades Gallup has measured it, from a low of 7% in October 2008 to a high of 71% in February 1999. The current 18% satisfied at the start of January is among the lowest Gallup has found during a presidential re-election year, with lower ratings occurring only in 1992, the year George H.W. Bush was defeated.

Although a mere 24% of Americans were satisfied in January 1996, this rose to 41% by March and was 39% in October, right before Clinton was re-elected. Satisfaction was at about the same level -- 41% -- in October 2004, in advance of George W. Bush's re-election, suggesting 40% is a safe zone for presidents on this indicator.

As with presidential job approval, the aforementioned 1996 trend during Clinton's re-election year shows that presidents who start the year with U.S. satisfaction quite low can still win if the number improves by March. Whether the upturn can happen later in the year is unclear, in part because there are no Gallup trends on this measure for incumbent re-election years prior to 1984.

Unemployment

The U.S. unemployment rate is not destiny for an incumbent president, but as political scientist Tom Holbrook has concluded, the direction and rate of change in unemployment may be.

With the nation's unemployment rate registering 8.5% in December, Obama is in the company of Ford, Carter, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush -- all presidents who served when unemployment exceeded 7% in the year leading up to their re-election bid.

Most Important Problem

Another valuable indication of Americans' concern about the economy comes from Gallup's Most Important Problem data. Two-thirds of Americans in January 2012 mention some aspect of the economy as the nation's most important problem. This is higher than the 54% "net economic" mentions in January 1996 under Clinton and the 37% in January 2004 under George W. Bush.

Public mentions of the economy fell to 40% by July 1996 in advance of Clinton's re-election, and remained at about the 37% level in 2004 before George W. Bush's win. By contrast, the current mentions of economic issues are comparable to the 66% recorded in November 1991 and 64% in May 1992 under George H.W. Bush, who was defeated.

Bottom Line

Americans' current evaluation of the president's job performance, their satisfaction with the direction of the country, and their ratings of the economy are all on the lower end of what Gallup has found at or near the start of previous years when an incumbent president sought re-election. While these comparisons are not auspicious for Obama's re-election, a broader view of how these ratings have changed over the course of previous presidential election years suggests it is not too late for the numbers to shift in Obama's favor. The same can also be said of the nation's unemployment rate and GDP.

The trend points are limited -- there are only eight past elections to review. But on the basis of the available data, it appears that Obama's March approval rating and U.S. satisfaction level could be more useful than January's in portending the election outcome. By March, it should also be clearer whether unemployment is continuing the swift decline seen since September or if that momentum has stalled, and whether the nation's economy is picking up speed.

Professor Chris Wlezien of Temple University may give the president a little more time than that to turn things around, as he has determined that economic indicators affect voter preferences in the year leading up to the election, although particularly through June. Changes in the economy after that have less impact, in part because of the lag times in reporting and because voters' opinions of the candidates are hardening.

Regardless, it's clear that today's numbers present challenges for Obama to overcome, but that he has time to do so. Given that, we can expect a strong focus on the economy in his State of the Union address later this month, and more efforts like last week's elevation of the Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level agency -- decisions that signal Obama is taking a jobs-oriented approach to repairing the economy.

Copyright © 2012 Gallup, Inc

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Alert: there will be no actual civil discussions among a diverse electorate, on the merits of candidate policies, as they might relate to improved opportunity for social, financial or self-improvement for the future health of the USA.

There will only be blind labeling, name-calling and derogatory sloganeering. All of which, in truth, are much quicker and simpler to accomplish, since learned first during grade school playground existence.

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All Obama has to do is keep replaying clips from those debates. It'll be a close race, but we're talking about the greatest campaigner in the modern age going up against (most likely) a very boring guy who even his base will only vote for because they hate the other guy. If somebody a little more intelligent and charismatic had run for the Republicans (see: Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie) I might be worried, but those guys are waiting for 2016. Odds are, historically, the incumbent wins the election, and any serious candidate is going to wait until he/she has a better chance of winning. If you lose a general presidential election your party will never let you run again.

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I can't believe Huckabee chose not to run. I hate his politics but...he is far more articulate, quick on his feet and has a much better sense of timing and humor than any of the stiffs who chose to run. Add to that, he'd thrill the tea partyers and Christian Right alike. As an Obama supporter I'm glad Huckabee sat it out.

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I think he's probably waiting for 2016 also.

On a tangentially related note, between the long-overdue passing of mercury emissions regulation last month and the rejection of the Keystone pipeline today, I'm thrilled over two major environmental decisions from this administration. They're obviously baby steps when it comes from the overall goal of sustainability, but it's still pretty great.

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Interesting while watching the "debates," it seems as if almost every deadly sin is perfectly represented:

Gingrich - Lust and Pride

Perry - Sloth and Wrath

Romney - Envy and Greed

Add a lard-arse, such as christie, and they'd be a complete tour de farce. Everyone running to officially represent their 1% constituency, whom they've been representing all along :beatnik:

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Ahh, so you guys have been watching the Republican Debate Tour, eh?

You mean Mental Illness on Parade? I watch them for the comedy. You just know one of them is going to get pissed off enough to let the n-word slip out in reference to Obama, and I'll bet you cold hard cash money the derptastic audience present when it happens will applaud like Oprah just came out and said everyone gets a brand new car.

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The Confederacy of Dunces are moving onto flawrida. Newter won south carolina, which just goes to prove... wow, south freakin' carolina. Why did they even bother? Rmoney seems to have lost momentum the instant it dawned on those poor fools that he's been gaming the system for decades and ends in a tax rate lower than the poor hahahah. Corporate welfare at its best.

Balls it! I'm voting for Ron Paul (or Stephen Colbert) :beatnik:

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Romney lost because Southern Evangelicals will not vote for a Mormon. He's going to have a hard go of it campaigning in the South.

I'm hoping for a brokered convention, complete with delegates yelling and punching each other in the face. I want it on TV, and I want to laugh!

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In my neck of the northern woods we pay over $1 a litre. There's about 4 litres to a gallon so... $5. Been pretty high like that for over 10 years. We were told it was a favor to help US in need, but prices never returned to normal.

(ps: I don't drive so the estimate is conservative. I saw 1.20/litre posted last year... heard people complaining about near $2 prices at X-mas tho)

Edited by Guest
added post-script

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Just wanted to mention that the Canadian dollar is about equal to the US dollar in case some were still thinking it was in the .85 cent area. So dollar strength isn't a factor for our high prices... :crazy:

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No problem :grin:

Canada's dollar hit a low in January 2002 at 62 cents (YIKES!) but has since climbed quickly to reach (and surpass) the US dollar in 2007 ($1.10). Ever since it's stayed fairly stable, climbing or falling only a penny or two. Closing Feb 24: $1 US = .999 Can.

Don't know if this is good news for Obama or not. But some stock trivia anyway :tongue:

(exchange info courtesy Bank of Canada)

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They've been pushing for the same here Joe. They even put a proposal of a "joint-venture" between US & Canadian governments saying it'll create jobs. Oil companies don't want to pay anything themselves. The governments should retaliate by offering purchase rebates and insurance incentives on smart-cars

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