Why Obama’s Still in the Race Despite the Bad Economy


There are plenty of reasons that the economy is the most important issue of Election 2012.

Unemployment has remained high for a long time, and even 27 percent of those who have a job are worried about losing it. Only half of homeowners now believe their home is worth more than what they still owe on it. Just 16 percent believe that today’s children will be better off than their parents.

These numbers present a real challenge for President Obama. Americans today rate their own financial health just about the same as they did on the day he was inaugurated, but not nearly as well as they did in the fall of 2008. Only 30 percent believe the country is better off than it was four years ago.

The president does benefit from a belief that he inherited a bad economy and that the recession was created by the Bush administration. But most voters also believe that his policies have hurt more than they’ve helped. Overall, by a 50 percent to 42 percent margin, voters trust Mitt Romney more than the president when it comes to managing the economy.

Still, the president remains very competitive in his bid for re-election. This may be partly due to the fact that there has been some very modest economic growth over the past couple of years. It also may be because Americans aren’t feeling all that good about either candidate. If the president is re-elected, just 32 percent of voters nationwide believe the economy will get better, while 37 percent believe it will get worse. If Romney wins in November, 36 percent expect the economy to improve, but 35 percent believe the opposite.

So Romney has a slight edge, but the emphasis is on the word slight. And among the key block of unaffiliated voters who will decide the election, just one in four expects either man to make things better.

Part of the skepticism comes from the fact that 66 percent of voters believe that the best thing the government could do to help the economy is to cut spending. But most voters don’t believe spending will be cut no matter who wins in November. Additionally, voters overwhelmingly trust their own economic judgment more than they either Romney’s or Obama’s.

Yet there is a larger issue at work here. Politicians and their cheerleaders in the political class assume that the role of government is to manage the economy. Most voters don’t. In fact, most think it’s more important for the government to protect individual rights than to promote economic growth.

That leaves the business of job creation and economic growth to the private sector, a perspective that makes sense to most Americans. Sixty percent believe job growth will come from business leaders who are focused narrowly on trying to help their own businesses grow. Just 24 percent think decisions made by government officials focused on public policy will create more jobs.

A politician promising to fix the economy has about as much credibility as a plumber promising to fix your electrical problems. Most voters recognize the importance of government in providing a healthy business environment, but they believe it’s the private sector that creates economic growth. They’re hoping to find a president who understands that, as well.

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