Pollster: Economy Will Define Obama 2.0

Economy, not guns nor immigration, will determine president's legacy.

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the guests during a Cinco de Mayo reception in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 3, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla between Mexico and France in 1862.
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to the guests during a Cinco de Mayo reception in the Rose Garden at the White House on May 3, 2012 in Washington, D.C. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla between Mexico and France in 1862.

Beyond all the pre-inauguration chatter about new initiatives and how to end partisan wrangling, President Obama's legacy will depend on something much simpler--how well the economy does during his second term, says senior Democratic strategist Geoff Garin.

"The biggest determinant will be where the economy is at the end of the next four years," says Garin. "If the economy is in good shape, his legacy will be in good shape."

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Such a turnaround would complete a remarkable success story in which Obama "led us back from the worst economic events since the Great Depression," adds Garin, an influential pollster who advises many congressional Democrats and who was a senior counselor to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2008. When Obama took office in January 2009, the economy was near collapse. It's still in trouble but has improved considerably.

Obama will be sworn in for his second term during a private ceremony on Sunday, which is the date prescribed by the Constitution, and in a public ceremony on Monday.

Garin adds that Obama has learned a lot about being president since his first inauguration, such as how to use his bully pulpit to shape public opinion and outmaneuver his adversaries. Obama tried to do this again Monday with a White House news conference that framed the ongoing fiscal debate as a contest between his common-sense pragmatism on one hand and Republican obstructionism on the other hand.

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Garin adds that Obama is deftly using up-to-the-minute techniques such as communicating through social media to mobilize supporters, and future presidents will follow his lead.

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.