The 2012 presidential election is 364 days away and Barack Obama is officially an underdog – at least if he faces Mitt Romney next November.
A slew of weekend polls highlight the challenge facing the 44th President. His approval rating, at 44 per cent according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday, remains well below the level normally associated with re-election. By this point in their mandates, both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan had overcome their first-term foibles and, with approval ratings of 54 per cent and 57 per cent respectively, were sailing toward re-election.
Nowhere are the President's difficulties more glaring than in the dozen swing states that typically decide national elections. Barely one-third of men and non-Hispanic white voters in these states approve of Mr. Obama's job performance, according to a Friday Gallup survey conducted for USA Today.
Meanwhile, statistics whiz Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog at The New York Times, has handicapped the 2012 race and concluded that Mr. Obama has a 40 per cent probability of winning against Mr. Romney if the economy remains mired in slow growth – the most likely scenario envisioned by economists. The President's odds improve to 60 per cent if growth picks up to an annual rate of four per cent, but sink to a mere 17 per cent if the economy slips.
What's most interesting about Mr. Silver's analysis is that, even in the likely slow growth scenario, Mr. Obama would beat any Republican other than Mr. Romney or Jon Huntsman. His odds of victory against Texas Governor Rick Perry rise to 68 per cent.
Still, the polls indicate the President's re-election team has its work cut out for it. The ABC poll has Mr. Romney ahead of Mr. Obama among working-class white voters by 55 per cent to 37 per cent, among college-educated whites by 51 per cent to 43 per cent and among suburban voters by 51 per cent to 45 per cent. These figures do not bode well for Mr. Obama in the key Rust Belt states.
While Mr. Obama wins near unanimous support among African-Americans – 92 per cent according to the ABC poll – his support among Hispanics has slipped to 60 per cent. He won 67 per cent of the Hispanic vote in 2008 and failure to achieve that threshold could cost him victories in states such as Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
Given his lock on about a dozen solidly Democratic states, including California and New York, Mr. Obama needs to win about half of the 151 electoral votes represented by the swing states to claim victory next Nov. 6. Those states are Ohio (18 electoral votes), Pennsylvania (20), Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), New Hampshire (4), Michigan (16), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5) and Nevada (6).