Obama is resilient. Despite economic catastrophe, hyper-partisanship and a growing list of deeply unpopular decisions, Obama has consistently polled above Congress, general sentiments about the state of America under his watch and even his own policies. He is striving to become the next Teflon president.
The single most significant factor in Obama's resiliency is undoubtedly the support he enjoys from the mainstream media. Rick Perry's presidential campaign has already endured more stinging attacks by the media than Obama has faced during his entire presidency. John Hinderaker noted today that Michele Bachmann's appearance on several Sunday morning talk shows included a barrage of persistent questions about ... gay marriage. The reason, of course, is not that anyone is talking about gay marriage, but rather a partisan drive on the media's part to portray Bachmann as a socially conservative "extremist" who holds "out-of-the-mainstream" views (nevermind that Obama ostensibly shares the same views). The liberal media has kept Obama afloat by simply ignoring scandals, explaining away failures and stubbornly enforcing a double standard toward conservatives.
As a result, Obama has been able to remain above 40% in opinion polls until now. But a bit of dust is being raised over Obama's dip below 40% for the first time on Sunday. Continuous pounding by the GOP (who have snatched the spotlight) in the wake of a bruising debt-ceiling confrontation have driven Obama's approval rating to 39%-54%.
While 39% is dismal, it is neither unprecedented nor apocalyptic. It surely stings liberals that George W. Bush was at 60% at this point in his first term, but George Bush Sr. was at 70% and failed to gain re-election. Clinton and Reagan both had comparable approval ratings in the mid-to-low 40's and easily won second terms. And Carter had already sunk into the 20's by this point.
So Obama's numbers are bad, but not dispositive of his 2012 fortunes. Carter nearly doubled his approval rating in just over two months, though to no avail. Voters have short memories and polls are event-driven. Indeed, the single most important variable - the identity of his GOP rival - is utterly uncertain. So predictions at this early stage are useless. All that is certain is that Obama is entering the presidential race with the political winds blowing against him, and he is trending southward.