Barack Obama’s re-election has been looking more and more likely in recent weeks. His approval rating has risen fairly steadily, economic forecasts have improved
and he’s opened a nice lead in head-to-head polling against Mitt Romney, as the Republican primaries have taken their toll on his most likely opponent. But the latest polls show things moving
dramatically in the other direction, for the first time since early October.
A Washington Post-ABC poll
conducted last week shows Obama’s approval rating dropping from a healthy 50 per cent last month to 46 per cent now. It also shows Romney leading Obama 49 to 47, compared to 51-45 to Obama
last month. These findings are backed up by Rasmussen Reports, who saw
Obama’s approval rating drop from 49 per cent on Wednesday to 44 per cent on Friday. They also find a six point lead for Romney — the largest he’s ever enjoyed against Obama in
one of their polls.
So why might some Americans be turning against Obama? The Washington Post poll contains a few clues. His approval rating on the economy alone is down from 44 per cent last month to 38 per cent now,
despite the recent trend of strong employment growth. The main culprit seems to be gas prices — the
national average has risen from $3.51 a gallon a month ago to $3.80 a gallon now. Just 26 per
cent approve of Obama’s handling of ‘the situation with gas prices’, while 65 per cent disapprove. The White House has been making a lot of noise about its ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and the
fact that America’s dependence on foreign oil is decreasing. But right now, that doesn’t seem to be enough to counteract the higher prices people are paying at the pumps.
Before anyone gets too worried or excited by these numbers, it’s worth remembering that they are just a few data points of many. Gallup, for example, has not found a similar drop in Obama’s approval rating. And besides, people do not choose
how to vote in an election in November based on gas prices in March. Far more important is economic growth, and that’s why rising gas prices should worry Team Obama: if they hurt GDP too
much, he could ‘find out what the crappy end of Inauguration Day feels like’.