Voters’ optimism, key for Obama, at risk with new jobs numbers

The biggest problem for President Obamain today’s jobs numbers may not be simply what it says about the current state of the economy, but how it affects voters’ view of where the economy is headed.

A sense of optimism about the economy’s future is crucial for Obama’s reelection chances. Just how important can be seen in numerous polls. Let’s look at one from the potential swing state of Wisconsin.

The Marquette University poll, which was released earlier this week, showed Obama with an eight-point lead in the state over Republican Mitt Romney, even as it showed Republican governor Scott Walker with a seven-point lead going into next Tuesday’s recall election. Optimism about the future of the economy is a big part of the reason.

Among the voters surveyed in the poll, 46% said they expected that the economy would get better over the next year, while 13% said they expected it to get worse, and 34% expected things to stay about the same. The optimists on that question are a Democratic-leaning group – typically, supporters of whichever party is in the White House report greater optimism about the future than partisans on the other side. In this case, 56% of Democrats said they expect the economy to get better, compared with 40% of Republicans and 42% of independents.


But even allowing for the Democratic leanings of the group, Obama did well among the optimists, winning 64% of those who said they expect things to get better over the year, compared with 30% for Mitt Romney. Among those who expect things to stay the same, Romney led, 49%-42%. The presumptive GOP nominee also led heavily, 54%-32% among those who expect things to get worse – a heavily Republican group.

Importantly, Republican governor Scott Walker, facing a recall election on Tuesday, also did relatively well among the economic optimists. He didn’t carry a majority of them – it’s a Democratic-leaning group, remember – but he did win 41% against Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, who got 54%. Optimism about the future tends to buoy incumbents, regardless of party.

Similar patterns show up elsewhere. “Obama does much better among voters who think things are getting better,” said pollster Doug Usher, whose Purple Poll surveys voters in swing states.

Obama has been helped so far this year by a sense among voters that the economy is beginning to turn around. If today’s jobs report – and the accompanying talk of a possible serious slowdown, changes that view, his reelection fight will become much harder.