Last week’s column asserting that the president is unelectable has triggered strong responses. Democrats, in particular, seem to think my judgment is premature. It strikes them as ridiculous that anyone could make such a “bold prediction” so far in advance of the 2012 election. Hey, that’s what we do, as seasoned political professionals, as pollsters. But I must stress that I am not so much making a personal prediction as drawing an informed conclusion based on all the numbers available. I do this in each election cycle for other candidates, and it’s time to make the call on President Obama.
Whenever I have an incumbent client running for reelection, I insist on a viability study about a year out from the election — so, in the case of the presidential race, right about now. Anything that I do for my own, I should do for the opposition. So here goes. First, I look at the polling results from traditional “deserves reelection” questions, the gold standard of viability testing. The most recent nationwide public poll I could find was one conducted by Quinnipiac University early last month. It showed 42 percent saying the president deserves reelection while 54 percent say he doesn’t. While this reelect number by itself is not necessarily a doomsday figure, it’s the 54 percent on the con side that’s a killer. Most often, there is a large undecided percentage, but here it’s only 4 points. Voters have closed their minds — and the book on this president. It ensures that when Obama faces a Republican nominee, the undecided voters in early polling will eventually vote against an undeserved reelection.
The second numbers I peruse are perceptions of accomplishments. Eventually, Republicans will ask voters, “What has Barack Obama really accomplished?” and he must answer. A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in his first year found that only 14 percent of all voters felt he had accomplished “a great deal ” during his initial nine months in office, his “salad days.” I cannot find evidence that the same question has been asked lately, but is there any chance that the result would be much different? In its Moving America Forward manifesto, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says Obama, with help from congressional Democrats, has five accomplishments: created private sector jobs, reduced debt, kept taxes low, passed a healthcare plan and reformed Wall Street. That’s the group’s best list. Do you think most Americans believe Obama has accomplished those things? Aside from passing a healthcare plan, he has done almost none of that, in the public’s mind. According to the latest AP polling, conducted in mid-October, the president’s average approval rating across those five areas is 42 percent. Obama brings no record of genuine accomplishment to his bid for reelection.
The third set of determinative data for an incumbent is perception of the direction of the nation or state. Everyone knows this is the biggest problem for Obama. The latest CBS/New York Times poll has the “right direction” at 21 percent. It hasn’t been above 30 percent since the early summer. Incumbents simply don’t get reelected when three-fourths of the electorate see things “seriously off” on the “wrong track.” Even if Obama’s approval ratings or likability were better, he could not overcome the negative sentiment that demands a change in direction. Americans are going to demand and get change next November.
So Obama fails on all counts. The numbers say that voters don’t think he deserves reelection, he has no meaningful accomplishments, and the nation is headed off in the wrong direction under his watch. He is simply not viable by any measure. That’s an empirically informed, hard-nosed judgment. This isn’t a movie or fantasy tale where a miracle occurs at the last moment to save the day. If Democrat campaign professionals don’t start acknowledging the same, and intervening, they risk Obama bringing down their entire ticket.
David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.
David Hill at ‘The Hill’