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Is Obama Slipping?

The media-formerly-known-as-mainstream are doing their best –as a commentator who is more outspoken than I am put it–to “drag Barack Obama’s sorry ass across the finish line.” We see this every day; a particularly egregious example was the press coverage of Mitt Romney’s excellent trip overseas. The Media Research Center analyzed the news coverage of Romney’s trip and concluded that an astonishing 86% of network news stories focused on Romney’s supposed “gaffes.” If you watched the video of “reporters” from the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN heckling Romney in Poland, you don’t need a scorecard to know which presidential campaign they are trying to boost.

In the past few days, some of these same news organizations have released polls purporting to show that Obama has pulled into a significant lead in several key states. But if you look deeper, you always find that the pollsters have over-sampled Democrats. It is no surprise that if a pollster asks 32% Democrats and 18% Republicans whom they favor for president, the Democrat will come out ahead. Strange as it seems, I think the pollsters and the news organizations they work for are doing this on purpose, in hopes of buoying Obama’s candidacy. Otherwise, wouldn’t they occasionally over-sample Republicans?

So one has to pierce through a lot of clutter to get any real sense of how the race is going. Given that actions speak louder than words, one thing you can do is look at where the candidates are spending their money: nearly all of Obama’s campaign spending (and Romney’s too) is directed at states that Obama carried in 2008. This means that notwithstanding the media cheerleading, Obama is playing defense, not offense.

You can also follow Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen’s polls are more meaningful than most others because 1) he samples likely voters, and 2) he continuously tests voters’ party affiliation, and weights survey results to reflect the current composition of the electorate. (Republicans have a slight edge in party ID, but essentially the electorate is 1/3 Republican, 1/3 Democrat, and 1/3 independent.) Because of that methodology, Rasmussen’s polls do not jump around randomly depending on the sample composition, and they are better able to measure actual trends.

So it is interesting to see how the matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has looked over the months:

Romney has generally led Obama ever since he became the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination. As always, the numbers bounce around some, and Romney’s lead among likely voters has widened and narrowed. On several occasions, Obama has briefly taken the lead. But the overall trend is clearly in Romney’s favor.

Currently, the tide seems to be running against the president. Romney leads him 47% to 43%. If the adage that undecided voters tend to break against the incumbent holds true, Obama is in a pretty deep hole. Moreover, voter approval of Obama seems to be slipping. His overall approval rating stands at only 44%, a number that, if it holds through November, would preclude re-election. Even worse for Obama is his Approval Index, the difference between those who strongly approve and strongly disapprove of his performance. Since early in his term, a plurality of voters have strongly disapproved of Obama. In today’s survey, 45% strongly disapprove while only 22% strongly approve. I think we can assume that none of those 45% are going to vote for Obama, while conversely, there is a fair amount of soft Obama support that could be eroded. Given those numbers, Obama’s Approval Index now stands at -23, which is just awful:

How significant are these numbers? There is a long way to go until November, and there have been several prior occasions when it looked as though Romney may be pulling away. It is entirely possible that Obama might again bounce back. Still, his prognosis is not good. He is nowhere near 50% approval with voters, and it is hard to see what could happen in the next 100 days to get him to that level. A plurality of voters strongly disapprove of his performance, and many of them will not only vote but will work to elect his opponent. Many voters still have little knowledge of Romney, and he will get a bounce from the Republican convention, and possibly from his vice-presidential selection as well. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that so far, Obama has vastly out-spent Romney on television advertising. Romney and his supporters have a great deal of money stored up for when the campaign officially begins, after the conventions. So the stars do not appear to be aligned well for the president.

My guess is that this is why the Democratic Party’s media arm has been working overtime in recent weeks. They are trying to pump life into a campaign that, viewed objectively, is in trouble.

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