On Marketplace this evening, Gallup's Frank Newport delivered bad news for Obama: by a nine point margin, Americans think that the economy will be in better shape for years from now if Romney is elected than if he is. The question is, why do they think that? They prefer Obama's tax policies and "balanced" approach to deficit reduction. They would hate the massive cuts to domestic spending necessitated by Romney skeleton of a budget if they could be made aware of them. They support the separate elements of the job creation package Obama put forward last fall.
I would have thought that the answer is, first, that an incumbent president inevitably gets blamed for a weak economy, and second, that they have so far bought the Romney pitch that a highly successful businessman is well equipped to turn the economy around. But Newport said something that turned my head around and brought me back to August 1, 2011: "Romney does better than Obama in terms of being able to manage the government."
To me, that signifies that Obama is still paying for getting his clock cleaned last summer in the debt ceiling negotiations that resulted in the Budget Control Act. He told the nation that a deficit reduction deal had to be balanced, a combination of new taxes and spending cuts. He asked people to call their Congressional reps and tell them that. And then he acceded to a "deal" that was all spending cuts. In the wake of the deal his poll numbers sank -- I suspect at least in part because he let the Republicans have their way (though also because the stock market plunged, S&P reduced the U.S.'s AAA credit rating and job growth stalled almost completely). Now, people still think he can't "manage" the government effectively, which may mean getting his way with Congress.
I had hoped that that impression of fecklessness was washed away by Obama's escalating combativeness in the fall -- and more directly, by his letting the supercommittee negotiations fail, thus writing steep defense cuts into law, and by his two-stage victory extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. But people were paying attention during the debt ceiling battle last summer. Perhaps they weren't during the payroll tax battle.
Then again, maybe the numbers -- and question responses -- simply reflect the state of the economy.
9:30 p.m. Edited for clarity in response to reader query.