- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

American confidence in the economy is steadily declining in the face of slow growth and poor job numbers, and analysts say if it continues it could spell doom for President Obama’s re-election bid.

A Gallup poll released Tuesday shows that 62 percent of Americans think the nation’s economy is going in the wrong direction, while just 33 percent say it is improving. The 29-point difference translates to a “minus 29” score on Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index, indicating the public’s lowest level of confidence since January.

“We’re entering a phase now where there is a lot of partisan bickering and that may increase people’s anxiety,” said Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport. “But an incumbent president wants people to be as positive as possible about the economy.”

Public confidence has sharply declined after steadily rising from last fall to late May, a period during which improving job numbers appeared to indicate the economy was stabilizing.

Most experts have acknowledged that while the economy is unlikely to improve drastically before Election Day, Mr. Obama’s hopes likely will rest on convincing voters that better times are ahead.

Unchecked pessimism is likely to benefit presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, whose campaign has relied heavily on telling voters that things will go from bad to worse if Mr. Obama stays in office.

“Americans deserve better,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Tuesday. “They deserve a president who has what it takes to get middle-class families back on their feet.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign countered Tuesday with a new ad that argues he found a federal government still suffering from President George W. Bush, and said Mr. Romney would reprise those policies.

The Economic Confidence Index was introduced in 2008 and while it is partially influenced by such economic indicators as unemployment and gross domestic product, Mr. Newport said Americans more often take their cues from the actions of politicians.

He suggested that current low numbers are due in part to the ongoing debate over whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, and pointed out that the index dipped as low as minus 54 last summer during the height of Congress’ debate over whether to raise the national debt ceiling.

The index’s lowest-ever rating is minus 65, which came during final weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse and a worsening global economic crisis. Democrats successfully used those issue against Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and other Republican candidates, by tying their policies to those of Mr. Bush.