On Sunday, for the first time in his presidency, Obama’s public approval rating dipped below 40 percent in the Gallup Poll.
Now polls are like life. The older one gets, the less remarkable the ebbs and flows become. Or the longer the trend line, the smaller the blips seem. But some poll numbers capture more. Gallup has an innate symbolism. As gold standards do. And 39 percent is emblematic of that oldest incumbent problem: selling hard times.
Today’s messages are distilled for a bumper sticker world. Mitt Romney’s motto: “Obama isn’t working.” So the playbook instructs. Bad times. Keep the heat on the incumbent. Thumbs up or down. Never mind me. He isn’t working. “It is time to get America working again,” said the newcomer to the 2012 race, Rick Perry, in his announcement Saturday. So we recall Ronald Reagan’s knockdown question. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”
No one number predicts presidential prospects. But if you must pick one, pick the presidential approval rating. There is a range where the floor gives out. There have been 11 campaigns since the Second World War. Only W won with an approval below 50 percent. Yet Gerald Ford lost in the same range. There’s no magic number. But Obama must likely be in, at least, the high 40s to win term two.