Curious Capitalist

Why Obama is Resilient to the Weak Economy

A weak economy usually spells disaster for an incumbent president. But there are three key factors keeping Obama ahead in the polls.

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One of the most amazing things about this election season is that the weak economy hasn’t been more of a liability for President Obama. Historically, it’s unprecedented. If you look at the Conference Board’s consumer–confidence index, which since its inception in 1967 has perfectly predicted presidential elections, you’ll see that every time the index is below 95, the incumbent loses.

Today’s confidence number is around 66, which is very low by any standard. (When Jimmy Carter lost, it was 74!) Yet the President continues to lead in many polls, even when it comes to the economy. In a Pew poll conducted in July, 48% of voters believed the President would do a better job of improving economic conditions, whereas Mitt Romneyscored just 42%.

(MORE: The Six Daunting Financial Problems Facing America)

Clearly, times have changed since Ronald Reagan was able to topple Carter by simply asking, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”  So, why hasn’t the lethargic economy been as much of a headwind for Obama as history would have led us to believe it should be? I’d argue it comes down to three things – first, voters know the global economy has gotten a lot more complicated since 1980, and they don’t expect any one person or policy to solve all our  woes—most people know many of the economic troubles of the moment are coming from overseas, and they don’t think things will get better anytime soon, no matter who’s President. Voters seem to be treating Obama’s first term economy as a write off – kind of like Romney’s wife’s horse.

On that note, Mitt Romney’s 13 percent problem, which is part and parcel  of his Middle Class problem, isn’t going away. American voters believe across party lines that the shrinking middle is our core economic issue – and they don’t believe Romney has the solution to it. Finally, even rich businessmen know that you need the government to help create jobs – which is why a new FT poll shows more of them support the President. For more on that, and why a bad economy means Obama may still have a future, check out my latest Curious Capitalist column in Time Magazine.