I'm not exactly breaking out the Veuve Cliquot yet, but there are a number of indications that President Obama may go back to playing golf full time and sniping at his country as an ex-president sooner than he expects.
First, as Josh Kraushaar at the National Journal points out, the president's poll numbers in the key battleground states aren't just bad, they're abysmal:
The race for president isn’t a national contest. It’s a state-by-state battle to cobble an electoral vote majority. So while the national polls are useful in gauging the president’s popularity, the more instructive numbers are those from the battlegrounds.
Take Ohio, a perennial battleground in which Obama has campaigned more than in any other state (outside of the D.C. metropolitan region). Fifty percent of Ohio voters now disapprove of his job performance, compared with 46 percent who approve, according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted from July 12-18.
Among Buckeye State independents, only 40 percent believe that Obama should be reelected, and 42 percent approve of his job performance. Against Romney, Obama leads 45 percent to 41 percent—well below the 50 percent comfort zone for an incumbent.
The news gets worse from there. In Michigan, a reliably Democratic state that Obama carried with 57 percent of the vote, an EPIC-MRA poll conducted July 9-11 finds him trailing Romney, 46 percent to 42 percent. Only 39 percent of respondents grade his job performance as “excellent” or good,” with 60 percent saying it is “fair” or “poor.” The state has an unemployment rate well above the national average, and the president’s approval has suffered as a result.
In Iowa, where Republican presidential contenders are getting in their early licks against the president, his approval has taken a hit. In a Mason-Dixon poll conducted for a liberal-leaning group, Romney held a lead of 42 percent to 39 percent over the president, with 19 percent undecided. Even hyper-conservative Rep. Michele Bachmann ran competitively against Obama in the Hawkeye State, trailing 47 percent to 42 percent.
The July Granite State Poll pegs the president’s approval at 46 percent among New Hampshire voters, with 49 percent disapproving. A separate robo-poll conducted this month by Democratic-aligned Public Policy Polling shows him trailing Romney in the state, 46 percent to 44 percent.
Nor is Kraushaar the only one. As the Pew Trust polls point out, President Obama's approval has cratered among people who identify themselves as independents, where elections are won or lost:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 20-24 among 1,501 adults and 1,205 registered voters finds that just 31% of independent voters want to see Obama reelected, down from 42% in May and 40% in March. Where Obama held a slim 7-point edge among independent registered voters two months ago, a generic Republican holds an 8-point edge today.
This is consistent with a drop in Obama’s approval among all independents. Currently, a majority (54%) disapprove of Obama’s performance for the first time in his presidency. His approval among independents has slipped to 36% from 42% last month and 49% in late May.
Finally, one of the perennially smartest-guys-in-the-room when it comes to these matters, Jay Cost, weighs the fundamentals and crunches the numbers. And they don't look good for the president:
First, a little historical background. From 1936 until about 1984, Democratic partisans vastly outnumbered Republicans in the broader electorate. This meant that GOP nominees not only had to win their base, they also had to do extremely well among independents and carry a good number of Democrats. However, with the success of the Reagan administration, the percentage of Democrats in the electorate began to decline. Today, it is only marginally higher (if at all) than GOP voters.
Thus, both parties have roughly the same two goals in a presidential election: turn out as many partisans as possible and win the independent vote.
Cost goes on to provide charts showing how President Obama's approval among independent voters has collapsed, and goes on to say:
It is worth pointing out that, in the last forty years, no president has ever been elected in a predominantly two-way race with less than 48 percent of the independent vote. (That was George W. Bush in 2004.)
Next, Cost examines the numbers on turning out Democrat partisans and provides a chart showing that in 2010 the percentage of adults calling themselves Democrats was at its lowest point in fifty years:
We can take all of the data we have reviewed so far and merge it into a very rough estimate of the president’s electoral standing. Over the last decade, Democrats have won about 90.5 percent of the Democratic vote and 7 percent of the Republican vote. Let’s assume that Obama wins the same amount. Let’s also assume that he wins a share of the independent vote equal to his approval in the Gallup poll.
That leaves one variable to account for: the percentage of Republicans, Democrats, and independents in the electorate. Let’s use three models. First, a “Very Democratic Electorate,” where partisan identification breaks down similar to 2008 (39 percent Democratic, 29 percent independent, and 32 percent GOP). Next, a “Slightly Democratic Electorate,” where partisan identification breaks down similar to 2006 and 2000 (38.5 percent Democratic, 26 percent independent, and 35.5 percent GOP). Finally, an “Even Electorate,” where partisan identification breaks down similar to 2004 and 2010 (36 percent Democratic, 28 percent independent, and 36 percent GOP).
As you can see, under anything less than a very Democratic electorate, Obama’s support among independents has been too soft to secure reelection for nearly two years. As for the more optimistic scenario for the president, even here the race has essentially been a toss-up for the last year or so. And, without a noticeable change in the trends on partisan identification, it is hard to envision such a pro-Democratic electorate emerging next year.
At this point, Obama is a prisoner to events. He needs a substantial, noticeable improvement in the economy, specifically as independent voters experience it, to have a decent shot at reelection. And beyond that, his health care bill remains extremely unpopular, and the deficit is bound to remain an issue next year. So, he has a lot of fundamental challenges. Assuming that his macro-position does not improve (and the Republicans nominate a reasonably acceptable candidate), the data at this point indicate that he would have a very difficult time winning reelection next year.
Anything can happen between now and next November. But I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that our long national nightmare might just be on the way to being over.