President Barack Obama has had a comeback in national polling, but when the 2012 campaign gets going, the real indicator will be those swing states that decide Presidential elections. Obama won most of those swing states in 2008, but Republicans reversed that in last year's midterms.
An interactive poll of more than 10,000 likely voters we conducted earlier this month for the O'Leary Report found that even after Obama's approval bounce, he still has a lot of work to do in those swing states.
The poll segmented the sample into those who live in Blue, Red and what we called Green states. The latter group includes those states carried by Obama in 2008 and where Republicans on the whole did better than Democrats in the mid-term election.
The list of Green States is familiar: Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. The O'Leary Report poll had a number of questions, but I'll just focus on three that may be most pertinent to Obama's re-election.
1. If the election were held today, do you think President Obama deserves to be re-elected, or would it be time for someone new?
Among voters nationwide, 52% said it was "time for someone new" and 41% said Obama deserves re-election. In those Green States, the margin was similar, 54%-41% in favor of someone new. Independents by 11 percentage points reject a second Obama term. Two-thirds of those over 65 and 60% of men want someone new. Obama remains strong with those 18-29, with 56% saying he deserves four more years.
2. In general, do you approve or disapprove of how President Obama's economic team is handling the economy?
Both nationwide and in the Green States, six of 10 voters disapprove. In Green States, majorities of all age groups and both men and women disapprove. The margins are closer for those 18-29 (48% approve) and women (44% approve), but those results don't suggest the levels of turnout Obama will need from both groups.
3. What would the unemployment rate have to be in October 2012 for you to believe the Obama economic team has correct economic policies?
The four answer choices ranged from holding at the current 9.5% to being below 8%. Small majorities nationwide (51%) and in the Green states (54%) want unemployment below 8% for them to credit Obama's team with being correct. In the Green States, that percentage is inflated by the 77% of Republicans who chose it. Nearly one-half of Green State independents (48%) chose "below 8%", as did 60% of both voters 65 and over and men, 53% of those 18-29, and 48% of women.
The Federal Reserve projected this week a jobless rate ranging from 7.2% to 8.4% in 2012. The actual number prior to the election will be enormously important. However, there may not be much Obama can actually do about unemployment between now and then.
What he can do is continue to impress on voters that he is a problem-solver willing to compromise to get things done. Like it or not, the tax deal he struck with Republicans in December improved Obama's standing overall with voters. Then, Obama still had a Democratic House majority. It remains to be seen what, if any, compromises Obama can make with House Republicans. Nonetheless, I believe Obama will score points, especially in those Green swing states, if he appears to be reasonable and willing to resolve impasses.
There is some risk in giving in too easily and gaining little politically. His budget proposal included cuts in home energy assistance and Community Development Grants, programs he says are dear to him. However, in a Zogby interactive poll done last weekend, less than one-half of independent voters approved of cuts to these programs.
These types of policy decisions may upset the Democratic base, but Obama is certain to continue making them, as he works to turn those Green States back to Blue.