Buried in the latest McClatchy/Marist poll was an interesting nugget. Although Americans are upset about the economy, 61% of those polled still think that Obama inherited the recession.
According to the poll Obama only has a 37% approval rating on his handling of the economy. He scores even worse on the issue of the deficit with a 61% disapproval rating, but his favorable rating remains at 50%, and when asked if the economy is his fault, or he inherited it, 61% of those polled expressed the belief that the president inherited the economy.
While the first two numbers should give the Obama campaign cause for concern and the second number will be the likely reason why any deal to raise the debt ceiling will also involve spending cuts, it is the last two numbers above that pose the biggest problem for Republicans ahead of 2012.
Recently, Howard Kurtz wrote that Mitt Romney’s campaign strategy is to lay low, and make the economy the central issue of 2012. (One does have to question how successful Romney will be at convincing America of his economic expertise, when voters find out that he made his name in business by buying troubled companies, gutting them, and laying people off).
The hurdle that Republicans face is the widely held perception that Obama inherited their economic mess. This belief has held true with over 60% of those polled since Obama took office. It has been a fairly unshakable piece of data across the polls that have asked the question. Should the 2012 election revolve around the economy, voters have to decide if they are willing to put the party back in the White House who they feel is responsible for this mess.
It is still early and the numbers can lie, but Republicans have had little success attaching ownership of this economy to Obama since he took office. Most Americans personally like this president, and as a candidate, he is the best campaigner in the country. No Republican in the current field can match Obama’s power on the campaign trail.
Republicans also aren’t going to be able to match his spending. Republicans have been trying for years to use the economy as the means of attack on Obama’s likability. They are hoping that if the American people see Obama as the person to blame for the economy they will elect any Republican, even Mitt Romney.
Romney is running the same strategy that John Kerry used when he tried to unseat George W. Bush in 2004. The flaw in the blame the other guy campaign strategy is that it isn’t enough to convince voters that the opponent is bad. The candidate must also give voters reasons why they would be better, and this is where every Republican challenger is going to struggle against Obama.
All of the Republican presidential candidates are offering economic remedies that are straight out of the George W. Bush playbook. They are going to make it easy for Obama to paint them as the return of W, and since a majority of Americans blame Bush and the Republicans for the economy, you can see where this goes.
If Republicans fail to change the perception that the president inherited this economy, Obama will win a second term.
Usually the central question in presidential reelection campaigns is does the incumbent deserve a second term, but the central question in 2012 may be, who do you trust with the economy?
Unless Republicans can change some minds, voters are more likely to trust Obama with a second term than to put the GOP back in charge.