President Barack Obama is far from winning re-election, but his “Truman strategy” — plus some mild improvement in economic conditions — seems to have improved his prospects. And Republicans are helping.
The strategy, of course, is to portray himself, much as President Harry Truman did in 1948, as the defender of the middle class and Republicans as obstructionists bent on defending the privileged rich.
Polls suggest he is hitting two political bull’s-eyes — disdain for Congressional Republicans and a belief that rich people ought to pay more taxes.
GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s estimate that he pays only a 15 percent rate on his millions of dollars in income — plus his rivals’ denunciations of him as a “vulture capitalist” — can only help Obama.
And so will replays of the GOP TV debate in which not one presidential candidate was willing to accept a deficit reduction formula of $10 in spending cuts for $1 in revenue increases.
Truman famously came from behind to win in 1948 running against a “do-nothing Republican Congress” and as the Washington Post poll showed Monday — tracking all others on the subject — Congress’ standing with the public is at an all-time low.
Obama does not always distinguish between the Democratic Senate and the Republican House in condemning Congressional inaction.
However, every poll, including the Post’s, shows that disapproval of Congressional Republicans is greater than of Democrats — 75 percent to 62 percent, according to the Post.
Similarly, a Pew poll last month showed that voters blamed Republicans more than Democrats for failures to achieve results by a 17-point margin.
By 53 percent to 33 percent, Pew found, voters think the GOP is “more extreme in its positions,” while by 51 percent to 25 percent, they believe Democrats are more willing to work with the other side.
Obama’s own polls began to show some upturn in mid-December, about two weeks after Obama traveled to Osawatomie, Kan., to identify with President Theodore Roosevelt’s progressivism and to assail Republicans for refusing “to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay the same tax rate as they did when Bill Clinton was president.”
The Washington Post/ABC poll showed that by 44 percent to 40 percent, voters believed he was better at handling the economy than Republicans in Congress; by 44 percent to 41 percent, at creating jobs; by 50 percent to 35 percent, at protecting the middle class; and even by 46 percent to 41 percent, in handling taxes. He’d been running behind in most of those categories until then.
Polls have pretty consistently shown that large majorities believe “the rich should pay more taxes” — by 68 percent to 28 percent in an October Time magazine survey.
Obama has experienced an upturn in his overall approval ratings since the lows of last fall. He was down to 38 percent in the Gallup daily tracking poll in October. He’s now up to 46 percent.
Generally speaking, presidents with approval ratings below 50 percent are in danger. President George H.W. Bush had 46 percent at this stage of his presidency and went down to defeat.
On the other hand, President Clinton also was at 46 percent in January 1996 and won re-election.
At the moment, Obama is running about even with Romney in national polls — but significantly behind his own 2008 performance among key demographic groups.
The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows Obama with a statistically insignificant lead of 46.5 percent to 45.3 percent over Romney.