What Will the General Election Be About?

New York Times CBS Poll

Feb 3—13, 2012

 Registered Voters 1064

Registered Republicans 316

Registered Democrats 368

How is President Obama Doing?

Pretty well, all things being considered. His numbers are nowhere near where they were when he was elected, all promise and post-partisanship. They are better than they were several months ago, however.

50% approve of the way he is handling his job. That was 43% last November. 50% approve of the way he is handling foreign policy. He started at 50% in February 2009; then went as low as 39% (last April) and now is back to 50%. Approval of the way he is “handling the economy” was at 33% last December and is now up to 44%. Approval of his job creation successes is at 41%; his handling of the federal budget deficit at 32%.

People are feeling better about the economy itself, as well as Obama’ s contribution to it. People who think the economy is “very good” are about 1% or 2%. You wonder what line of work they are in. The major categories are “fairly good” and “fairly bad.” 22% are now saying they think the economy is in fairly good condition—up from 10% last September. The “fairly bad” numbers have ranged from 50% to 41% in that same time period. Currently, 46% say things are “fairly bad.”

The next question is whether things are getting better or not. The largest number is people who think things are “staying just about the same,” so I add that number to those who are more positive; then to those who are more negative. People who think the economy is staying the same or improving add to77%; those who think it is staying the same of getting worse add to 65%.

Reelection Prospects

Let me start by saying that the numbers of whichever Republican wins the most convention delegates are going to go up. So any of the current four candidates will be better off than these numbers imply. Here’s why I think that. The number of Republicans who wish there were more choices of Republican candidates are at 62% compared to those who are satisfied with the current field, 32%. To that, add the trait most desired by Republican voters—the quality that is “most important in deciding who to support for the Republican nomination.”

The Republican nominee should be a “true conservative,” 22%. That’s the most important thing among the 316 registered Republicans in the poll. Another 34% say “strong moral character” is most important. The candidate who has had “the right experience” to be President is preferred by 22%. And the ability to beat President Obama, 19%. One fifth of the Republicans polled have the ability to win a general election as the highest priority. The “if the election were held today” question produces victories for President Obama against Ron Paul (50% to 39%); against Newt Gingrich (54% to36%). Mitt Romney (48% to 42%) and Rick Santorum (49% to 41%). So the President beats any of the Republican candidates so long as there are multiple candidates. The numbers will improve a lot for whoever wins the Super Tuesday contests. Currently the people think Romney has the best chance of defeating Obama (55%). Gingrich (15%) and Santorum (14%) are the only others in double figures. People also think that a Romney administration would be much more like the Obama administration than a Santorum administration, a Paul administration, or a Gingrich administration would be.

Another way to come at this question is to see which Republican candidates might be helped by which political emphases. I take it for granted that the worse the economy does, the better it is for any of the candidates, including Ron Paul. A campaign focused on economics would seem to play to Romney’s strength. Economic issues are more important, in deciding whom to vote for, by 69% to 21% for “social issues,” the alternative focus. That’s not good news for Santorum, who is the “values” candidate—39% of the Republican voters in this poll said Santorum represents “the values you try to live by.”

So a campaign focused on the economy in an economy that is not improving would be ideal for Romney. A campaign focused on values, in a climate of opinion where majorities of voters favored the Santorum position over Obama’s would be ideal for Santorum. We don’t know which way the economy is going to go, obviously. We don’t know, just to pick one example, whether a stable government in Greece can be formed and can hold to an austerity program.

We do have some clues about the values end of the spectrum, however. People support “a recent federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover.., birth control” by 66% to 26%. That religiously affiliated employers should be required to provide such plans, 61% to 31%. illegal immigrants currently working in the U. S. should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship 42%, rather than stay as guest workers (22%) or required to leave (30%) Gay couples should be allowed to marry (40%), restricted to civil unions (23%), or receive no legal recognition at all (31%).

And that’s just a sample of the current “values issues.” My guess is that if they are clarified in the general election, support for the conservative options will drop further. That will mean less Republican money coming from social conservatives and fewer Republican foot soldiers from the social conservatives. President Obama is currently picking a fight with the Catholic Bishops, the result of which will be, I think, a growing gap between the political views of the bishops and the political views of most Catholics.

Polls are useful because they point directions. They don’t do any more than that. There is scarcely a Democrat in the country who can start breathing more easily after looking at these polling numbers. On the other hand, if I were the Obama administration, I’d have to say I would rather be in his position than anyone else’s.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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