There is no question that President Obama's poll numbers have taken a slide, and the latest confirmation of this downward trend comes from this Politico article referencing the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, which pegged the president's job approval at 47%. Are there reasons to worry about 2012? I'm worried.
My general feeling is that the President will be fine in 2012 and maybe more than fine if the economy rebounds. If the unemployment rate goes down significantly over the next couple of years, easy reelection. This would be consistent with past historical practice and fits the standard theory.
But the question is whether the standard theory fits in this case. The President's poll numbers have fallen quite steeply and one might argue too steeply to be a reflection of his job performance. An increasingly large proportion of the electorate seems to be issuing an early and final verdict on Obama. That is, they are already starting to write him off. When you look at the polls you see that conservatives abandoned the President very early in his presidency and they are not coming back. In fact, they are completely energized by the Obama presidency. To some extent this was to be expected (it is reminiscent of the way liberals felt about GWB--they never liked him from day one, that never changed, and Bush became fuel for liberals.) But then moderates and independents have started wavering. And of course the news of late has been the criticism that the President has received from liberals. All of this and the President is less than a year into office.
The question is whether the movement of the independents away from Obama is caused by external political events (healthcare reform, TARP, two wars: Iraqistan, a 10% unemployment rate, etc.) or is caused by a general distrust of Obama himself. A distrust that did not manifest itself during the election simply because it looks like the country was falling over a precipice but is mushrooming as things appear to be stabilizing. If the latter, i'm worried because even if the economy improves, iraqistan stabilizes, and healthcare reform gets passed Obama will not get the deserved credit.