- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A new poll by the Hill found that 52 percent of respondents think President Obama does not deserve a second term, while 40 percent think he does. With economic growth stalled, unemployment climbing and record numbers of Americans on food stamps, the question is not why the re-elect number is so low but why Mr. Obama’s support is so high.

Millions of Americans seem content to give Mr. Obama a pass on his wretched economic record. The latest Gallup daily poll shows Mr. Obama with a 45 percent job-approval rating and 47 percent support for re-election, a statistical dead heat with Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama’s approval is 5 percent to 7 percent ahead of where one-term Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were at this point in the race, and 13 percent to 16 percent below two-termers Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

It’s a mystery what keeps Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects aloft when he has been such a disappointment as president. It could be his personal likability, but studies show that particularly in economic bad times, voters gravitate more toward a strong leader than a charismatic empty suit. Race may be a factor. Black economist Walter E. Williams has argued that Mr. Obama is held to a lower standard than white politicians. Obama administration defenders call any legitimate criticism of White House policies a racially motivated attack. Mr. Williams quoted Van Jones, Mr. Obama’s former “green jobs” czar, claiming the Romney campaign slogan “Obama Isn’t Working” implies he is a “lazy, incompetent affirmative-action baby” rather than just a lazy, incompetent leader.

Oddly, the people who have been hit hardest by failed Obama policies tend to be Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters. Groups slammed by the jobs recession — the young, women and minorities — are core Democratic voters. There is a direct relationship between unemployment rates and pro-Obama sentiment. There seems to be some kind of battered-spouse syndrome at work, in which the worse things get, the more these downtrodden groups cling to the person responsible. In that respect, the White House should be hoping for this week’s unemployment numbers to increase in hopes that the bad news will swell the ranks of Obama supporters.

There is some sign of softening; Mr. Obama’s approval has dropped to 8 percent below where George W. Bush’s was in 2004. The two had been statistically tied for most of the summer, which stands out because Mr. Bush’s first-term economic numbers were far superior. (Yes, they were; look it up.) Showing there is hope ahead, Mr. Obama’s current support is the same as when the “second term” question was asked by Fox News in the first week of September 2010, shortly before Republicans routed Democrats in the congressional midterm elections.

Whatever is keeping Mr. Obama’s numbers aloft, Democrats seem confident the good luck will continue. They even dared to give Mr. Carter a prime-time speaking slot via video on the first night of the Democratic National Convention. It’s counterintuitive to highlight the first person whose joke of a presidency was felled by the question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Then again, the Obama campaign thinks — despite all evidence to the contrary — that the answer to that question is “yes.”

The Washington Times