Poll: Obama neglecting focus on the economy

On the same day President Barack Obama canceled a jobs event to focus on Haitian relief efforts, a new poll shows a majority of voters think the president isn’t focused on the economy.

In a survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute released Wednesday, 47 percent of respondents said the president wasn’t spending “enough time” on the issue.

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“What that reflects is that the economy is issue one, issue two and issue three in terms of voters’ concern,” said Peter Brown of Quinnipiac.

Earlier this week, administration officials trumpeted a new report that says the stimulus package created or preserved close to 2 million jobs last year. Still, the Quinnipiac poll of some 1,700 registered voters nationwide found people remain concerned about unemployment.

“The stock market may be doing well and the recession may technically be over. Voters don’t think so — they don’t think so because they’re worried about the security of their job, and they’re worried about their friend or cousin or brother-in-law who lost theirs," Brown said at a breakfast Wednesday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Anxiety about the economy is making people angry, and incumbent Democrats should be on alert, Brown added. “Just as two years ago and four years ago the momentum was with Democrats because their people were motivated to go to the polls because they’re angry, it’s a fair assumption that the situation is reversed this time.”

To mitigate that sentiment, Democrats need to chalk up some legislative successes that resonate with average voters.

“The first thing they need to do is deal with healthcare,” Brown said. “If you’re gonna pass it, pass it. Get it done, because they’re committed to it." But even passing healthcare reform may not help Democrats, Brown noted. "The economy is what everybody cares about.”

On Obama’s handling of the economy, 41 percent of respondents said they approve while 54 percent said they disapprove. “That’s worse than his overall job approval rate,” which is at 45 percent, Brown said.

He compared Obama’s poll numbers with those of President Ronald Reagan after his first year in office.

“Ronald Reagan was a four-letter word in much of America in January 1982, which is where we are in the same cycle. In fact, unemployment was worse,” Brown said. “People were making fun of the fact that his administration thought ketchup was a vegetable. And people thought Reagan and conservatism was an aberration that would be quickly washed away in 1984.”

But as the unemployment rate dropped going into the 1984 presidential election, Reagan gained popularity, capturing the country’s mood with his famous “Morning in America” TV spot. “By 1984 Americans thought Ronald Reagan was pretty spiffy,” Brown said.

Obama could benefit from a similar arc in the country’s economic cycle, according to Brown. “Things have been really bad as he came into office; they haven’t gotten any better; but if we look at American history, the economy gets better and it benefits the incumbent.”

Still, Obama will have to rebuild his coalition heading into the 2012 election. “Many of the white men, political moderates who voted for Obama, have peeled off,” Brown said. “Barack Obama’s viewed as a Democrat — that’s what this data shows.”

That’s not how he was viewed on Election Day, Brown said. “His coalition was broader.”

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