The Reality He Faces


The latest poll is brutal for Barack Obama, as the public is close to despair on the economy. He has an all-time-low approval rating of 44 percent (slightly better than most polls), and only 19 percent think the country is on the right track. As I wrote this morning, the debt ceiling debacle, the downgrade and the jobs numbers explain much of this. All this is rightly the leading news, but it's worth noting how resilient the president is personally with the American public:

If there's a silver lining for Obama, it's that a combined 70 percent of respondents still find him likeable (though nearly six in 10 say they disapprove of many of his policies). And 50 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy.

It's also useful to see how even despite the horrific numbers, Obama is still beating or matching his likeliest GOP opponents, even if he is slightly trailing a generic Republican:

Obama leads Texas Gov. Rick Perry by five points, 47 percent to 42 percent. And he leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by one, 46 percent to 45 percent, though that margin is down five points since June.

If Obama is beating Perry now, before Perry's extremism has been fully aired, the Republicans should be jittery. And on the critical long-term issue of the debt, voters are overwhelmingly behind Obama's position and against the GOP's:

In the poll, 60 percent say it would be acceptable if the "super committee" considers reducing the deficit by ending the so-called Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or more per year. Moreover, 56 percent say it would be acceptable if it considers reducing the deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

By comparison, just 37 percent believe it’s acceptable for the committee to reduce the deficit by only cutting spending and not raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And only 20 percent say it’s acceptable to lower the deficit by reducing spending on Medicare.

All of which is to say: everything is to play for. But at this point, when the polls are clearly reflecting a referendum on Obama's legacy, not a choice between him and a specific opponent, the GOP is arguably on better ground than it will face next year. And Obama's still beating Perry.