[Posted by Karl]
ABC News Political Director Amy Walter wants to know. After noting that Obama’s overall job approval ratings in various polls are seven to nine percent higher than his approval numbers on the economy, Walter observes:
Obama’s job approval ratings defy political gravity. The only question now, is if they can do so for much longer.
Psychologists talk about “cognitive dissonance,” the tension that people feel when their thoughts are inconsistent with one another. In this case, it’s feeling as if the president is doing a pretty lousy job on the economy, but still giving him decent (though not glowing) marks when it comes to his overall presidency.
At some point, psychologists will tell you, relief from the tension comes only when you try to restore consistency.
In this case, it means that either voters need to start feeling better about Obama’s handling of the economy or they will start to feel worse about his overall ability to handle of his job.
Walter gives Pres. George H.W. Bush as an example of a weak economy eventually drawing inflated, post-Gulf War I ratings back to Earth. She also cites Ronald Reagan’s 1984 showing as an example of the same phenomenon in reverse.
However, Nate Silver answered Walter’s question last month, with a better Reagan example.
Silver began with an obervation similar to Walter’s:
Since 1974, CNN and Time Magazine have routinely posed a question in their polls that asks respondents to tell them “how well are things going in the country today”. So far this year, an average of 39 percent of respondents have said things are going “very well” or “fairly well”, while an average of 60 percent have said they’re going “pretty badly” or “very badly”. By contrast, Mr. Obama’s approval has averaged 52 percent so far this year in CNN surveys, against 46 percent disapproval.
Silver hypothesizes that some of the difference is due to: (1) people still blaming Pres. George W. Bush for the recession; Obama being a first-term president; and (3) Obama having high personal favorability ratings. But on the issue of political gravity, Silver posts a chart showing that the “going well” number and presidential approval have historically gone into near-perfect alignment in presidential election years. That’s why Silver began his blog column with a different Reagan example than Walter used — 1980:
Mr. Carter — despite approval ratings in the 30s or low 40s — was holding his own against Ronald Reagan. Some polls, even well after Labor Day, showed the horse race to be tied or even had Mr. Carter with a slim lead.
Mr. Reagan would win overwhelmingly, however, claiming 44 states (even Massachusetts and New York) while limiting Mr. Carter to just 41 percent of the vote.
How much longer can Pres. Obama defy political gravity? If 1980 is any guide, well into the election season… but probably not all the way to Election Day.