Is wishful thinking about the economy the key to Obama’s reelection chances?

A new CNN poll indicates that, by a 73-27 percent split, most Americans believe that the state of the American economy is poor rather than good. Yet, by a split of 60-39, most Americans believe the economy will be good in 2013. CNN polled “adult Americans” rather than registered or likely voters. However, given the nature of the question, the small number of non-registered respondents in the poll, and the decisiveness of the margins, I’m not sure this matters.

I’m always not sure how to explain why so many people expect a major economic turnaround for the better next year. However, if Americans truly believe that good times are just around the corner, then I imagine they will reelect President Obama.

On the other hand, the burst of optimism detected by CNN may not last until November. The U.S. manufacturing sector contracted last month for the first time in three years. The effects of the contraction may be felt within the next few months.

CNN also asked which of the two presidential candidates would do a better job on the economy and other important areas. Here, results are provided for registered voters. This group split down the middle (48-47 for Romney) on whether Obama or Romney would do a better job on the economy. However, independents tilted for Romney on this question, by a 52-41. Given the way independents broke, it may be that CNN over-polled Democrats.

Respondents in battleground states also went for Romney, 52-42. But the original sample size of around 1,300 shrinks considerably when you consider only responses from battleground states.

As to other issues, respondents trust Romney more than Obama on the federal budget deficit and, by a small margin, immigration. They trust the president more on foreign policy, but don’t regard foreign policy as a top-tier issue.

Overall, this poll suggests that the presidential race will remain close and that Obama needs enough decent economic news to sustain the apparent optimism about what the economy will look like next year.

But again, this poll sampled registered voters, not likely ones. And it shows that Obama’s break-even rating with Romney on which candidate would better handle the economy was built on the opinions of low-income and young respondents. These groups seem less likely to turn-out in November than the older and better-off respondents whose confidence is with Romney, not Obama.

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