As GOP presidential contenders dogfight, how's Obama doing?

It’s way too early in the presidential campaign to make predictions about the 2012 outcome. But at this point, President Obama might confidently say, “I’ve got ‘em right where I want ‘em.”

Susan Walsh/AP
President Barack Obama waves as he walks off helicopter Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Friday.

It’s way too early in the presidential campaign to make predictions about the 2012 outcome. But at this point, President Obama might confidently say, “I’ve got ‘em right where I want ‘em.”

Front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are battering each other rhetorically as Rick Santorum and Ron Paul circle around, trying to get a jab in here and there.

Obama’s approval ratings are inching back upwards as much of the electorate begins to see glimmers of hope in the economy. And if the election were held today, he would beat any one of them, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Over at Betfair and Intrade, meanwhile, participants in those online betting and election prediction websites give Obama a comfortable lead in his chances of being re-elected – averaging 56 percent compared to 37 percent for Romney’s winning and just 2 percent for Gingrich. (Both Betfair and Intrade give Romney better than an 80 percent chance of being nominated – Gingrich is down in single digits – which gives some indication of Obama’s likely opponent and the way the incumbent is already framing his campaign.)

The Monitor's Weekly News Quiz for Jan. 21-27, 2012

The important thing for Obama come November will be how people feel about his tenure as president.

There’s no doubt that it’s been a rough three years as the economy faltered, housing foreclosures remained a major problem, and the US slowly – very slowly – disengaged from two costly and unpopular wars.

Then there was the sharp partisan divisiveness in Washington – something Obama hoped to transcend.

His failure there can be measured by the relative party polarization in his approval/disapproval ratings – among the highest divide between Democrats and Republicans since the Gallup organization began tracking that during Eisenhower administration. (Political polarization was even higher during some of George W. Bush’s years in office.)

Still, Gallup finds some hopeful signs for Obama.

“US economic confidence continues to improve, consistent with recent modest improvement in unemployment, positive news on jobless claims, and the general perception that the overall US economy is getting slightly better,” writes Dennis Jacobe, Gallup’s chief economist. “This seems like good news for the nation's businesses as well as for President Barack Obama's re-election chances.”

NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll results out this week second that observation.

While Obama has a long way to go to be considered a solidly popular president, the latest numbers likely put a spring in his step.

“More people said they believe the economy will get better (37 percent) in the next year rather than worse (17 percent),” NBC reported. “That’s the highest level in more than a year and a seven-point jump over last month.”

While the number of people who said the country is headed in the right direction remains a relatively dismal 30 percent, that’s up 8 points from last month and 13 points from October. Meanwhile, for the first time in seven months, more people approve of Obama’s job performance than disapprove (48-46 percent).

What’s the political import of such numbers?

Republicans had better bring their A-game to the election in November,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey together with Democratic pollster Peter Hart. “Today's results are a reminder – as attitudes about the economy improve, so does President Obama's standing.”

With his State of the Union address to Congress this week (which got a better reception among average viewers than it did from many pundits and partisans, according to focus groups and post-speech surveys), followed by a jaunt around the country to talk about the economy, manufacturing, and education, Obama launched his re-election campaign.

He has the advantages of incumbency, from Air Force One to a traveling press corps always standing by. In his case, there also seems to be a self-confidence and ease of manner that were big parts of his success in 2008. In a few months we’ll know whether his personality, character traits, and those polling numbers hinting at a turnaround in public perception are enough to win him a second term.

The Monitor's Weekly News Quiz for Jan. 21-27, 2012

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