Conclusion: With Texas Governor Rick Perry officially in the race, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looks to be finally facing some meaningful competition for the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, despite falling to near lows in approval, President Obama continues to poll well against most Republicans. He is vulnerable, but Obama is far from beaten.
President Obama actually trumped Governor Perry’s entrance into the Presidential race this weekend by garnering substantial news coverage of his own. Unfortunately for Obama, the news coverage was related to the downward spiraling of his approval rating. Specifically, a Gallup poll ending on August 13th showed Obama’s approval rating at 39%. With the addition of this poll, the Real Clear Politics poll aggregate for Presidential Job Approval has now fallen to -6.7 – a mere 40bps off the lows of the Obama Presidency.
According to the history of Gallup’s polls, this places President Obama as the second least approved of President in the third week of August of the third year of a Presidency for all Presidents going back to President Eisenhower. Not surprisingly, the least approved President in that period at this point in his Presidency was President Carter with an approval rating of 32%. The President with the third lowest approval rating at this juncture in his Presidency was President Reagan, with a 43% approval.
As it relates to contemplating President Obama’s re-election chances in 2012, his approval rating is certainly an instructive factor, but we would caution at reading too much into this one factor so far away from the general election. As was proven by Reagan’s first term, the ability of a President to rally from a dismal approval rating and be re-elected is very realistic. In Reagan’s case, he went on to a land slide victory over Walter Mondale winning 58.7% of the popular vote and 97.6% of the Electoral College votes. (Incidentally, Carter was the only Democratic President to not to be re-elected since 1888.)
Certainly there are many differences between Reagan and Obama, but the interesting basic similarities are that they are both incumbents up for re-election with low approval ratings and facing seemingly weak challengers. In Reagan’s case, Mondale likely put the nail in the coffin of his electoral chances with the following statement at the Democratic convention when he accepted his nomination:
“Let's tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.”
In effect, Mondale explicitly told voters he was going to raise taxes. Even if realistic as a deficit cutting proposal, explicitly indicating you will raise taxes is not the most prudent campaign tactic.
As it relates to Obama, despite the weak economy, broad dissatisfaction with politicians, and his low Presidential approval rating, Obama still polls well against most Republicans. In the table below, we’ve outlined the most recent polls of Obama versus some of his key Republican challengers in August:
Two key events have occurred since the above polls were taken: Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race and the native of Paint Creek, Texas, Governor Rick Perry, has officially thrown his proverbial cowboy hat into the ring.
As Perry just recently entered the race, no polls yet reflect whether his standing versus Obama has shifted, but InTrade does provide a bit of an insight. Currently, the contract that Perry will gain the Republican nomination is reflecting a 39% chance that Perry will receive the nomination versus 30% for Romney and 7% for Bachman.
Even though no candidate has gained the nomination entering this late into the race, Perry has become the front runner for the nomination over night. As a result, the Democrats have begun to attack Perry focusing on his love of God, purported lack of intelligence, coiffed hair, and his key platform position of limiting the power and influence of government. Probably the best example of the tact that Democrats will take on Perry’s view of government came from former Clinton advisor Paul Begala over the weekend, when he wrote:
“Does Tim Pawlenty rant about Social Security? Hah. Perry told The Daily Beast's Andrew Romano that Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme,” and that both it and Medicare are unconstitutional.”
As Perry steps from the conservative cloak of Texas and attempts to establish a national brand, it will be critical for him to withstand personal and philosophical attacks from the left. Luckily for Perry he has substance behind his nicely groomed hair, especially as it relates to the economic success of Texas. As he noted on Sunday at his campaign launch in South Carolina:
“Over the years, we’ve followed this recipe to produce the strongest economy in the nation. Since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all the new jobs created in America. Now think about that, we’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America but 40 percent of all the new jobs were created in that state. I’ve cut taxes. I have delivered historic property tax reductions. I was the first governor since World War II to cut general revenue spending in our state budget. We passed lawsuit reform including just this last session. Loser pays.”
For now, we are reserving judgement on Perry’s potential, but if the video of his launch, which is attached below, tells us anything, it is that Perry’s ability to reach and communicate with Americans may only be paralleled by the President himself in this race.
The cowboy from Paint Creek is up, now the question is whether he can handle the national political bull.
Daryl G. Jones
Director of Research