Shock Poll: Unpopular President Fares Poorly Against Challengers

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 22 2011 2:35 PM

Shock Poll: Unpopular President Fares Poorly Against Challengers

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Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Gallup conducts a set of trial heats, pitting Barack Obama against Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Ron Paul. Obama trails Romney within the margin of error, ties Perry, and beats the other two. The pollster provides this context:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

In August 1995, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole was slightly ahead of President Bill Clinton in a Gallup poll, 48% to 46%. On Election Day 1996, Clinton beat Dole by eight points.
In August 1983, President Ronald Reagan was ahead of Democrat Walter Mondale by only one point, 44% to 43%. Reagan went on to beat Mondale in a 59% to 41% landslide in the November 1984 election.
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So if the economy grows like gangbusters, Obama's in good shape.

In August 1979, incumbent President Jimmy Carter was tied with former California Gov. Reagan -- each getting 45% of the vote. Reagan ultimately defeated Carter by 10 points.

And if the economy doesn't grow, he loses. (Unemployment was on the rise when Reagan beat Carter.)

Gallup's approval matrix has been getting a lot of attention. Right now, Obama tracks at a wan 40 percent. He's gone as low as 39 percent. But he's still at 46 percent, at the lowest, against any Republican currently in the race. There really is something here to the coming scorched earth strategy -- people have been known to re-elect incumbents, even if things are rotten, if the alternative becomes completely unacceptable. Right now, there are voters disenchanted with Obama -- I'm guessing many of the liberals telling pollsters they're fed up -- who will support him, and keep him from falling out of contention.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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