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Summer 2012 make-or-break for Obama's re-election bid

08-16-2011 09:00 BJT

WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- As presidential election in the United States is drawing near, experts said U.S. President Barack Obama could face significant re-election troubles if the economy does not turn around by next summer.

Indeed, Obama's approval ratings have been dealt a heavy blow following U.S. credit downgrade woes and amid fears of a double- dip recession. While the economy needs to improve dramatically to have a positive impact on the president's ratings, the public must believe by next July or August that the U.S. economy is at least on the right trajectory, experts said.

"By the summer of 2012, people will have a sense of how the economy is and that will affect their views of the president," said John Fortier, director of the democracy project at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

That means public opinion must take a sharp turn by then. A recent poll found that 73 percent of Americans believe the country is heading in the "wrong direction," with Obama's approval rating standing at 45 percent, a drop from last month's 49 percent.

The survey came on the heels of the first-ever U.S. credit downgrade, which stirred anxiety in the U.S. stock market and prompted a more than 600-point plunge before it slightly rebounded late last week. Some experts, however, noted that U.S. bond markets remain stable and argued that the stock market had over- reacted to the downgrade.

According to Fortier, Obama's job approval rating is low enough to cause concern.

"Any time a president is below 50 percent, there is some concern because almost everyone has an opinion about the president, " he said.

Moreover, Fortier said, Obama's Republican competitor has not yet been nominated and the public has had little chance to size up the current candidates. Still, 45 percent of approval rating is not disastrously low, as the president's popularity numbers can still rebound.

Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said the date to watch is July 2012. "The economy needs to get better by then. An economy that starts to recover in October, 2012 is too late to help the president,"he added.

In West's view, it generally takes a few months for an improving economy to be apparent to voters, as well as for a sitting president to receive political credit for it.

Aside from the downgrade drama, Americans' main concern is a 9. 1 percent unemployment rate that has remained stubbornly high for a couple of years now, and shows few signs of declining.

Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the Heritage Foundation, said it is difficult to fathom the president being successful amid this time of persistent economic malaise.

Moreover, a large chunk of the U.S. population knows someone who is unemployed, which could damage the president's popularity.

"That's the insidious word of mouth stuff in which people say 'the economy stinks my cousin, my aunt or my wife lost their job or can't find a job.' And that's a hard thing to overcome," noted Franc.

But some experts also pointed out that Obama's personal charisma an attribute that at times is more important to Americans than a candidate's policies has thus far not been matched by any Republican candidate.

Obama also has 90 percent of the African American vote in his corner, and is likely to get a majority of the Hispanic vote, they added.

Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, said at this point Obama is not in serious trouble, although his position is not ideal either. Still, none of the Republican candidates have put together a creative narrative over what to do about the U.S. debt.

Kull also noted that disapproval of the president is no endorsement of the other side. Rather, it would likely to impact voter turnout among his supporters.

The timing of economic recovery plays a crucial role, as Americans do not tend to give much credit to last minute good economic news, Fortier said.

A strong jobs report in late October by itself will not be particularly helpful, although there is still nearly a year's time for some improvement to help the president, he said.

U.S. presidents have seen their job approval numbers move from time to time. It is not a foregone conclusion that things will be the same as they are today.

"Things could improve or deteriorate in the next year," Fortier said.

Editor:Wang Xiaomei |Source: Xinhua

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