If the presidential election were held today, President Obama may not come out ahead. Obama's reelection campaign has been dealt some serious blows this week as voter sentiment has shifted to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The bad news for Obama began last Friday when the government reported that employers added just 69,000 jobs in May — a dramatic decline from prior months and a number far below the 200,000 level needed to reverse the downward trend in the labor market. Today a new CNBC survey of 800 Americans found that 39 percent of participants trust Romney with the economy versus 33 percent who said Obama's economic policies were better (this number was unchanged from April). The latest Gallup poll shows that Obama's job approval rating has slipped below 50 percent, with 45 percent of Americans approving of Obama's job performance while 48 percent of Americans do not.
Moreover, Romney reported his presidential campaign raised $76.8 million in May — almost $17 million more than what Obama and the Democratic National Committee collected last month. Romney's campaign donors gave nearly double what they did in April, underscoring the fact that Republicans have finally coalesced around the party's presumptive nominee.
The economy has always played a significant role in presidential elections. With six months left until voters head to the polls, Obama will have to prove even more so that his policies have helped, not hindered, the economic recovery. On Friday Obama urged Congress to support his jobs bill, telling reporters "given the signs of weakness in the world economy, it's critical that we take actions we can to strengthen the American economy right now."
Since Obama took office in 2009, the unemployment has steadily ticked down from its peak of 10 percent, but at 8.2 percent it's still uncomfortably high and does not include the hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers who have permanently exited the labor market because they cannot find jobs. Economic growth has dropped from an annual rate of 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 to 1.9 percent in the first three months of this year. Recession talk has grown louder over the past few weeks but many pundits and investors — including Warren Buffett — have dismissed the chatter. Buffett said the chance of a recession in the U.S. is "very low." (For an opposing view, see: Why Warren Buffett Is Wrong About the "Very Low" Risk of Recession)
The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task and Henry Blodget discuss in the accompanying video whether Obama should be held accountable for the frail economy. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said in an interview this week that the Obama Administration had underestimated the severity of the downturn it had inherited from the Bush administration but without the $787 billion stimulus Obama pushed through in his first months as president, the economy would likely be in worse shape than it is now.
On a positive note, total U.S. debt — including both public and private - has risen just 1.4 percent since June 2009 — the slowest pace since the 1950s, reports MarketWatch. The government has added to its debt load — largely to boost to the ailing economy — while the private sector has written off its bad debt, paid it off or transferred it to the government. More Americans decided to save more and spend less in the past three years, helping to bring down the ratio of debt to GDP. "Total domestic debt as a share of the economy has declined for 12 consecutive quarters in a row after surging over the previous decade," writes Rex Nutting in MarketWatch.
Obama may continue to lay the blame for the current state of economic affairs on his predecessor but whether voters will side with Obama and his economic policies will ultimately be known in November.