Obama loses trust on the economy, but did he ever really have it?

Based on the results of a Washington Post/ABC News poll, the Post concludes that President Obama is losing public trust when it comes to the economy. The numbers support that conclusion. They show Obama’s overall approval rating down by 5 points from just before his second term, to 50 percent. Of the seven post-World War II presidents who served a second term, only George W. Bush had a lower approval rating at this juncture.

With respect to the economy, the poll reports that 44 percent trust the president more than congressional Republicans in this area, while 40 percent trust the Republicans more. In December, Obama’s edge was 18 points.

I suspect, however, that Obama’s approval numbers in late 2012 were inflated. My theory is that voters who decided to vote for the president as the lesser of two evils convinced themselves, briefly, that he was doing a good job. Why? Because few feel comfortable voting for a president they believe is doing a bad job.

Now that Obama doesn’t have Mitt Romney to kick around, his approval numbers are returning to their natural level.

That’s not the only thing going on, of course; there’s something called the sequester in play, although it’s not living up to its advance billing. According to the Post’s poll, however, voters hold Republicans more to blame for the sequester by a 14 point margin (47-33). Yet Obama holds only a 4 point margin on the question of who is more trustworthy on the economy.

In the end, these poll numbers don’t matter much. The 2014 elections are a long way off. If the stock market continues to flourish and the unemployment rate continues to fall, Obama’s numbers very likely will improve.

In this scenario, though, the public also will likely see less reason to vote Republicans out of the House. Since Obama can’t implement much of his transformative agenda as long as the House is in Republican hands, a rising economic tide is not unambiguously in the president’s political interest.