President Obama shouldn't be cast as the favorite in the November election, partly because of continuing economic anxiety, public doubts about the overall direction of the country, and many voters' preference for "wholesale change for the fourth election in a row," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart.
In a new memo to reporters and other political analysts, Hart says Obama's re-election is "no better than a 50-50 proposition." He says more Americans, 40 percent, believe that Republican challenger Mitt Romney has better ideas about improving the economy than Obama does, at 34 percent.
"Just 33 percent say the country is heading in the right direction, which is a vast improvement from the 19 percent who felt that way in November 2011," Hart notes. "It may be 'forward,' as the Obama slogan promotes, but it still is not good."
He points out that 38 percent believe economic conditions will get better over the next year, compared with 25 percent last November, but this is still not a healthy number for an incumbent.
"Finally, there is a great deal of unhappiness in institutions from the media to Congress to the executive branch, and particularly Wall Street and major corporations," Hart says. "The unhappiness goes to the heart of the electorate wanting wholesale change for the fourth election in a row. Today, a majority of Americans would vote to eliminate every sitting member in Congress if such a lever on the ballot existed. This is an electorate conditioned to vote for change, not continuity."
Hart says the electorate could turn out to be like a German Shepherd or a Doberman. His point is that the voters' current negativity could manifest itself in the November election as bluster, or it could mean a massive throw-the-bums-out reaction movement.
"The German Shepherd election is one in which the dog (the electorate) looks at an intruder (the office-holders) and barks and growls with great ferocity but in the end, rarely attacks or does much damage," Hart says. "By contrast, the Doberman election is one in which the dog lies in wait for the intruder to enter and then attacks with the intent to do bodily harm. The attitudes suggest a continued unhappiness with the Congress and the state of the nation. The question to be resolved is whether the voters will just bark or attack."
Hart is one of the nation's most respected pollsters. He says he based his analysis on his own polls and focus groups and discussions with other political consultants.