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Will Obama Be Seen As the Lesser Evil?

President Obama ought to be in a lot of trouble. With the economy still as bad as it is after three years in office, his prospects for reelection should be bleak. But it still remains to be seen who will take the blame for our economic problems. And the fact is that as much as Americans disapprove of Obama’s performance, they are even less happy with everyone else.

A recent AP-GfK poll found that a majority of Americans said the President Obama doesn’t deserve to be reelected. Fully 60% said they disapproved of his handling of the economy. Obama’s overall approval numbers have actually been improving slightly, possibly as a result of the recent fall in unemployment. But the real reason that Obama may still win is that the poll also finds that voters still prefer Obama to both Mitt Romney and—by a large margin—to Newt Gingrich.

Polls about possible head-to-head matchups are not in themselves very meaningful 11 months away from the election. But polls also show that voters view all the top Republican candidates negatively. Newt Gingrich may be the new frontrunner, but his numbers are the worst, with just 24% of Americans saying they have positive feelings toward him, compared to 40% who say they have negative feelings toward him. You would have to go back to Pat Buchanan in 1995 to find another leading Republican whose negatives outweighed his positives by so much. And in previous years there has always been at least one top Republican candidate who was viewed positively.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the Republican field is so unpopular. Rather it is probably the product of the party’s strategy of focusing on obstructing Obama and making him ineffectual, rather than putting forward a clear agenda of its own. To a large degree, that strategy has indeed had the effect of hurting public perception of Obama. But it also means that the Republican party has largely failed to present itself as a clear, positive alternative to him. So in the end voters may be unhappy with Obama, but reelect him anyway.

Photo: Chuck Kennedy

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