The roadmap to President Barack Obama's re-election could lie in the response to a question buried in a recent Suffolk University Poll.
Conventional electoral wisdom dictates that Obama's odds hinge on the state of the economy -- if U.S. GDP growth continues to be fitful and slow and the unemployment rate is still mired around 9 percent, history suggests that frustrated voters will punish the incumbent president. But that does not take into account the role congressional Republicans are perceived to play, a topic the pollsters probed with the following:
Do you think the Republicans are intentionally stalling efforts to jumpstart the economy to insure that Barack Obama is not re-elected?
In all, 49 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, including a quarter of self-identified Republicans, a third of self-identified conservatives and a majority of moderates. If the perception that Republicans are undermining economic recovery for politican gain acquires enough currency, it could fundamentally reshape the dynamics of the 2012 presidential election.
Will Voters Perceive GOP Tactics As Obstruction?
It certainly puts the Republican message machine on a bit of the defensive here, said Jim Spencer, a Democratic consultant and president of the Campaign Network. The idea that Republicans care more about a political victory than they do about creating jobs, if that takes hold and increases, if Democrats spend more money messaging and it works, then the whole election is a different ballgame.
That Republicans are focused on unseating Obama is nothing new -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., infamously said that preventing Obama's re-election was the single most important thing we want to achieve. But the strategy has been on prominent display recently, as Republicans have steadily blocked aspects of the president's $450 billion jobs bill despite broad public support for both the proposals contained in the jobs package and the president's plan to pay for it by raising taxes on the wealthy. An anonymous source told Politico Republicans were wary of backing the plan if it meant they would hand [Obama] a win, a quote Obama has taken to citing on the stump as an example Republican intransigence.
Congress: A 9 Percent Approvel Rating
Political prognosticators point to the lack of historical precedent for a sitting president surviving such high unemployment, but while Obama's approval rating remains stuck below 50 percent, Congress' standing in the eyes of voters has plummeted to a 9 percent approval rating, a nadir never before seen in American history. As Obama has toured the country aggressively extolling his jobs package, polls have reflected a shift in voters starting to believe the president is better equipped than Republicans to create jobs.
I think there's no question that the frustration with Congress and with the inaction is reaching unprecedented proportions, said Peter Fenn, a Democratic consultant and the founder of Fenn Communications Group. I do think this notion that there is a political motivation behind this does hold water, as does this notion, which is I think a devastating one, that you care more about a victory in the next election to than you do about solving the problems, help me to avoid foreclosure, help me to get a job.
The election is still a year off, and a reversal of the still-sluggish economic recovery between now and next November could yet deal a decisive blow to Obama's campaign. But if the economy continues to improve, albeit incrementally, Obama will have a chance to argue for the effectiveness of his policies -- those he has successfully implemented, and those his opponents have batted down.
It's fair to say the Republican strategy has been to make the election entirely about Obama. In their minds the way they win is to make this race a referendum on Obama said Dave Heller, a Democratic strategist and president of Main Street Communications. That's Obama's challenge: to make the race not just about the president but his about opponent, to frame the race as a choice between two people and not just an up or down vote on the president.