In recent weeks, as the Republican presidential field has been busy tearing each other apart while the primaries heated up, Democrats have been feeling a lot better about their chances to re-elect Barack Obama. The spectacle of the GOP’s internecine warfare and slightly better, though by no means encouraging, economic statistics have led some to believe the president may have an easier time this fall than many had thought just a few months ago. But the latest Gallup survey of the president’s approval ratings tells a very different story. Breaking down the job approval numbers state by state, Gallup presents a picture that ought to be deeply distressing to the White House.
If you add up the states where the president has a net positive approval rating in 2011, you only get a total of 215 electoral votes, while those where he has a net negative rating amount to 323. If these numbers remain unchanged through the fall that would mean a decisive loss in the Electoral College for Obama.
It is true the negative job approval numbers for 2011 are an average of the entire last year and not necessarily a snapshot of what people think today, let alone next November. It is also a poll that does not pit the president against an actual opponent but instead measures only what voters think about him. However, it is hard to argue that the daily tracking poll over a lengthy period is an aberration. It also appears, at least for the moment, that the Republicans are likely to nominate their most electable candidate in Mitt Romney.
Moreover, this map shows the divide between red state America and the blue has decisively shifted to the advantage of the former. In this formulation, Obama has put himself in position to lose every state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and every one west of the Mississippi except for California and Washington. Whereas Obama in 2008 was able to make inroads in the South and West, he now finds himself only ahead in the Northeast and in a few Democratic strongholds in the Midwest and the West. Most importantly, he is behind in terms of approval in most of the key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
None of this preordains a Republican victory in 2012. But when they stop chortling about the GOP attacks on Romney and Newt Gingrich, Democrats need to remind themselves a president with an approval rating in the mid-40s is in big trouble. If Obama is going to give himself a chance to be re-elected, he’s going to have do something to change that number or count on vacating the White House next January.