30 May, 2012

Polling The President-May 2012

It’s that time again. Time for my monthly look at President Barack Obama’s (D-USA) polling figures.

As always, I’ll start with the RealClearPolitics averages. Today, his approval/disapproval number stands at 48.0/47.4. Last month, he was –0.4, today he’s +0.6. That’s barely outside the range of statistical noise, but it is trending the right direction for Obama. And, what I said last month is still true. The good news for the White House is that this number is virtually unchanged over the last several months, and even a bit higher than last August.

I’m a little puzzled as I move on to Right Track/Wrong Track. The four most recent polls end on 5/7, 5/7, 5/20, and 5/20. Not terribly recent. But, that’s the data we have to work with. His numbers here are a dismal 33.8/58.5, which is a –24.7 spread. However, this is a slight uptick from last month, and shows a pretty significant gain over the last year. Still, as I said last month, if I’m a political consultant I’m salivating at the opportunity to run against an incumbent President when less than 34% of Americans think the country is headed in the right direction.

Next, I move on to the Consumer Confidence Index from The Conference Board. May’s report was released yesterday, and is very disappointing for the President. May’s CCI is down to 64.9, which represents a 3.8 point drop from April. The other numbers in the report don’t get any better. Only 13.6 percent of consumers say business conditions are “good”, and only 16.6 percent expect conditions to improve over the next six months. Again, the only good news in this report is that these mid 60s numbers are a whole lot better than the mid 40s numbers from last summer. However, the continuing bad news out of Europe is going to be a drag on Consumer Confidence for a while, regardless of what happens here.

Finally, as promised, it’s time to look at some head-to-head matchups with former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the race for the White House. The current RCP average has Obama at 45.7 and Romney at 43.7. There’s good and bad here for both sides. Obama can take solace in the fact that he’s ahead, and that his string of bad polls seems to have abated. Romney can take solace that almost all of these polls are Registered Voter polls which tend to shift Democratic by a net of about 4 points.

Romney should also be happy that 10% of the public remains undecided. Conventional wisdom says that undecideds that break late go to the challenger. But, there’s some recent data that suggests that conventional wisdom may be wrong (late deciders in 2004 went heavy for President George W. Bush (R-USA)). I think a better way to look at it may be that undecideds are closest to “Independents”. So look at how Obama and Romney are polling among Independents to get an idea of how undecideds may go on election day. In just about every poll I’ve seen, Independents are tilted heavily in favor of Romney. This may be the key data point in this year’s election. If the numbers are close (check), and GOP enthusiasm is higher (check), and Indies prefer Romney (check), it’s hard to see how he can lose.

But, until the polls shift to reflect that, we can only go with what we have.

Overall, this is a mixed bag for the President. However, he can definitely point to improvements over the last year. Despite America’s obvious displeasure with Obama and our economic situation, an incumbent with an improving economy (even if the improvement is spotty and weak, or even imaginary) is hard to defeat. NFL owners rarely fire 7-9 coaches, particularly if they were 5-11 the year before. NFL owners fire 5-11 coaches who made the playoffs the year before. If none of these numbers change, I’d give Obama a slight edge in November. Romney’s going to have to move the needle. It looks like he should be able to do so, but he hasn’t yet, and the clock is ticking.

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