There is feeling, bordering on disbelief, in left wing circles in the UK that simply cannot grasp why Barack Obama may have a fight on his hands to win Novembers election against Mitt Romney. The argument runs that the modern Republican Party is so extreme, and so offensive to huge segments of the population, that nobody in their right mind could ever vote for it. The fact that the race seems very close and could still go either way is mystifying, and sometimes wrongly blamed on crude caricatures of the wisdom of the US voter.
A closer look at the situation in the USA reveals a different picture. Put simply, Barack Obama has a decidedly mixed record as president, and is paying the electoral price for failing to meet the needs and expectations of the voters. Although Mr Obama took over at the exact moment that the global economy experienced its worst shock since the 1930’s, it is impossible to conceal or excuse the fact that four years later the US recovery is anaemic at best.
At present 48% of Americans disapprove of the overall Job President Obama is doing, while 45% approve. While the President scores well on foreign policy and education, he does badly on traditionally right wing issues such as deficit reduction and immigration. His real difficulties are on economic issues, where around 60% of Americans believe that he is managing the economy badly and failing to create jobs. At a time when the unemployment rate is 8.3% these are worrying figures for the President. Mr Obama’s predecessors knew that at times such as this “it’s the economy” that decides elections.
A sitting president cannot run on a platform of ‘hoping for change’. He/she must explain what they have been doing for the past four years, and hope that the voters think it shows that they are a better bet than their untried challenger. If you are an American voter, fearful about your economic future, possibly unemployed or probably knowing people who are unemployed, and unsure about the direction the country is heading, then you are likely to have serious questions about Mr Obama’s presidency, and at least be ready to question whether you wish to extend it.
If I were an American citizen I would still vote for Obama, on the basis that I believe the Republican economic position is Hooverite nonsense, but I would certainly understand the reluctance of others to do so. There is nothing inexplicable about being dissatisfied with a president after four years of poor economic performance, with little prospect of improvement.