WASHINGTON — The economy is, by virtually everyone’s account, the driving force behind the 2012 election, and yet, more than three months into a renewed economic slowdown, the impact has yet to dent President Obama’s standing in the polls.
With yet another discouraging jobs report on Friday – a seasonally adjusted figure of 80,000 net new jobs created last month — Obama’s apparent ability to defy economic gravity highlights some key electoral realities: Partisanship trumps statistics, national figures may be tempered by those in battleground states and undecided voters tend to tune out much of what happens in campaigns, at least until the fall’s presidential debates, when the remaining holdouts sometimes take sides.
The economy began showing signs in April of running out of steam. Since then, three monthly jobs reports in a row have come in below analysts’ expectations, and numerous other economic indicators have soured. But no trace of that has shown up in the extensive polling of the presidential race. In Gallup’s daily tracking poll, for example, Obama and Republican Mitt Romney were essentially tied from the third week of April until the middle of last week when Obama opened a small lead.
Other polls disagree about the relative placement of the two candidates, but all show the same overall pattern – no major movement despite the worsening economic climate.
That lack of movement could change if the months continue to go by without an upturn, of course. And Romney certainly plans to continue hammering home his argument that Obama’s policies have failed. Friday, he went to a hardware store in Wolfeboro, N.H., the picturesque, lakeside town where he and his family have gathered for a week of vacation, to denounce the latest jobs figures as a “kick in the gut to middle-class families.”
“There’s a lot of misery in America today,” Romney said. “These numbers understate what people are feeling and the amount of pain which is occurring in middle-class America.”
Romney mocked Obama’s campaign slogan of “Forward,” which he said was out of sync with reality.
“ ‘Forward’ doesn’t look a lot like forward to the millions and millions of families that are struggling today in this great country,” he said. “The president doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going, just the same old ideas of the past that have failed. I have a plan.”
Obama, campaigning in Ohio and Pennsylvania, said the new jobs that had been created were a “step in the right direction,” but he added that he wasn’t satisfied with the rate of job creation.
“We can’t be satisfied, because our goal was never to just keep on working to get back to where we were back in 2007,” he told an audience in Poland, Ohio, a small city south of Youngstown, near the Pennsylvania border. “I want to get back to a time when middle-class families and those working to get into the middle class have some basic security. That’s our goal.”
For now, however, both men appear to be largely preaching to the converted. On the economy, as with most issues, partisanship strongly colors how people perceive news and the context in which they place it.
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