Normally elections are heavily dependent on the state of the economy, and with some people struggling right now with bad economic conditions the outcome of the 2012 election will be determined even more by the state of the economy. I’ve compiled this chart from Gallup tracking data that I believe makes it clear how much that President Obama’s fortunes will depend almost exclusively on the state of the economy.
The red line is the percent of Americans who feel the economic conditions in the country are getting worse. The blue line is the percent of Americans who approve of Obama’s job performance as President. The high degree of correlation is obvious from just looking at the data from the last six months.
When people think the economy is improving, they start thinking Obama is doing a better job. When the economy seems to get worse people start thinking Obama isn’t performing as well as he should be.
The Obama campaign needs to stop worrying about trying to make Obama look like he is a more sensible adult than the Congressional Republican leadership, tailoring a message to win over independents, or making it appear that Obama is taking the long term deficit seriously. The White House shouldn’t be focusing its time on whether to only push for insufficiently small economic measures that might get Republican support or push for bigger economics plans that are destined to die in Congress.
The best political move right now for the Obama administration is figuring out how to use every power currently vested in the Presidency to noticeably improve the economic conditions of regular people. Fortunately for Obama, the housing crisis is one of the biggest drags on the economy but that is an area the President currently has a lot of power to address unilaterally. There is the unspent HAMP money and the government still owns Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae.
The graph strongly reinforces the belief that regular people don’t really care about political rhetoric and debates over the size of government, what they want at this moment is jobs and economic security. Obama’s best hope is to try some bold persistent experimentation in hopes that something big he does unilaterally manages to make the economy better, because if the economy continues as some prominent economists are now projecting, he is in really bad shape.
Good policies that provide noticeable positive improvements for people will inherently become good politics.