BY JAY COST
Sean Trende has an important column that connects presidential job approval to reelection results. You really should read the whole thing, but here is the big take home point:
[I]ncumbent elections have historically looked more like referenda than choices, and so far, this election is looking like one as well. Voters who approve of the incumbent largely vote for him; those that do not approve of the incumbent vote for the challenger, except in extreme circumstances.
This is exactly right, and something I have been discussing for some time now. It also points to why I think the conventional wisdom of President Obama being a heavy favorite for reelection is massively oversold.
In fact, I’d argue that he is an underdog. For a simple reason: A majority of Americans do not think Obama is doing a good job, and they have thought that for a very long time.
Now, let’s be clear. It is not an overwhelming majority of Americans, not by any stretch. We are not in Nixon ’74, Carter ’79, or Bush ’08 territory with Obama. However, we have seen a durable 50-55 percent of Americans either disapprove or at least not approve of his job performance for quite a while.
To appreciate this, consider the following picture, which tracks Obama’s job approval in the RealClearPolitics average, from the beginning of his term through the end of 2009.
The president entered office with enormous public support, which he retained even after the relatively controversial stimulus bill. It was only when the health care debate started to heat up – between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that his numbers fell. And boy did they fall. On June 1, 2009 his net approval was a solid +28.2, but by September 1 it was at +7.8.