The economic recovery has picked up speed, but it hasn't approached the kind of momentum that would allow President Obama to run a sunny, optimistic campaign. Polling firm Democracy Corps has a new survey showing that Obama's approval rating has risen to 50 percent and he's way more popular than the Republicans, but people still think the economy is terrible. This was borne out in several ways. One was a question asking listeners if they agreed with the statement, "I'm beginning to think the economy is moving in the right direction and we shouldn't be doing things that disrupt the recovery," or that, "the economy is not moving in the right direction and we need a change." Change stomps right direction, 56-40.
Democracy Corps also tested different pieces of Obama's State of the Union address with focus groups. The parts about fairness and the middle class did really well. But the part where Obama said "America is back" absolutely tanked:
Claiming that “America is back” is by far the weakest operative message and produces disastrous results. It is weaker than even the weakest Republican message and is 10 points weaker in intensity than either Republican message. Overall, less than a third of all voters said this message makes them more likely to support the President and a third said this message made them less likely to support Barack Obama. Alarmingly, this message barely receives majority support among self-identified Democrats—and even less support among all other groups. Less than a quarter of independents say this message would make them more likely to support the President and no independents said that it would make them much more likely to support him.
That's really bad. If you're the president and your election-year rhetoric is making everybody hate you, you're doing it wrong.
The lesson here is not that Obama is doomed, at all. He's actually in pretty decent shape. But he's in decent shape purely because America loathes the Republican Party and all it stands for, and its front-runner is incredibly unpopular. He can win with contrast. Maybe the economy will get to a point where he can run a classic incumbent campaign stressing how wonderful things are going, but he's not there yet.