A new poll finds that most Americans like President Barack Obama personally, but are sharply divided over his policies. Meanwhile, some of the Republicans who would like to challenge Mr. Obama in next year’s presidential election are taking some tentative first steps toward joining the 2012 campaign.
The Quinnipiac University poll shows most Americans find President Obama personally likeable. But when it comes to his policies, the country is divided, says pollster Peter Brown. "Almost three in four Americans, 74 percent, say they like President Obama personally. But only 42 percent like his policies. That is a very large gap and the question in terms of the president’s re-election is really whether his personality or his policies will rule."
Mr. Obama argues some of his policies on the economy are bearing fruit. The latest jobs report shows unemployment is now below nine percent, its lowest level in nearly two years. "And that is progress, but we need to keep building on that momentum," he said.
President Obama’s job-approval rating has improved in several polls during the past few months, but political analysts say his re-election hopes hinge on improvements in the U.S. economy.
Analyst Charlie Cook told the CSPAN public-affairs network the jobs situation in particular is critically important as the 2012 campaign draws closer. "I would rather know the unemployment rate because I think ultimately it is more important. That is not to say the Republican nominee is not important, but (the election) is a referendum on the incumbent president, number one, and number two, people vote their pocketbooks (economic interests)," he said.
It is expected that several Republican presidential candidates will formally take steps to enter the race in the next few months. But so far the campaign has been slow to develop.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched a Web site last week inviting voters to help him explore a possible White House bid next year.
And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney criticized the president’s health-care reform law during a speech he gave in the early primary state of New Hampshire. "One thing I would never do is usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover. I would repeal Obama-care," he said.
At this point in the presidential election cycle four years ago, all the major White House contenders had officially entered the race. But the 2012 Republican field is developing very slowly, and some Democrats believe that is because of President Obama’s improved standing in the polls.
Analyst Faiz Shakir is with the Center for American Progress in Washington and was a recent guest on VOA’s Encounter program. "I think one of the reasons that Republicans have not been rushing out of the gate to challenge Obama as they would have perhaps a few months ago is that they see the political fortunes of Obama actually getting better and the economy improving," he said.
But many Republicans do not accept that argument. John Fortier is a political scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. "I think the president has improved since the election. His (poll) numbers are up. But we should not overstate this. Certainly the president is kind of in the middle. He certainly could win at this point, he could lose, but he is not somebody who I think is scaring off Republicans," he said.
Republican caucus and primary contests will not begin until early next year, but a number of Republican candidate debates are scheduled for this year beginning in May.