GOP Race Irrelevant? It’s (Still) The Economy, Stupid.

Steve Kornacki:

Republican presidential candidates have devoted months, if not years, of their lives to chasing their party’s nomination, they’ve raised and spent (along with their Super PAC allies) tens of millions of dollars, and they’ve participated in more than a dozen debates – each of which has attracted a massive television audience.

But a startling new poll underscores what has got to be a maddening possibility for Republicans: It could all be for naught – and there may be nothing they can do about it. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey points to a measurable uptick in optimism about the country’s economic direction, and in the public’s assessment of President Obama’s performance.

By a 37 to 17 percent margin, respondents said they expect the economy to improve in the next year; back in October, they thought it would get worse by a 32-21 margin. And the number of Americans who believe the country is heading in the right direction now stands at 30 percent – hardly a huge number, but a clear jump from the 17 percent who said so in the fall. Overall, Obama’s approval rating is at 48 percent, the highest it’s been in an NBC/WSJ poll since June, when he was still basking in the afterglow of Osama bin Laden’s demise.

The numbers are a reminder that a president’s reelection fate is ultimately more dependent on the state of the economy than on what strategy the opposition party employs and which candidate it nominates. If economic anxiety and pessimism are rampant, then winning a second term is a profoundly uphill slog, even if the opposition fields a supposedly weak nominee. But if the public widely believes that conditions are healthy or at least improving, then credit – deserved or undeserved – invariably goes to the White House occupant.

Now, much as I’d love to spike the football, it’s obviously premature to write off the GOP at this stage solely based on one poll (just like it’s way too early to declare Obama DOA because, um, FOOD STAMPS!!1).

Besides, if I were a member of the Obama campaign team I definitely wouldn’t be popping any Cristal until the shit across the pond has been sorted out…

(Image: Peter Vidrine, used under a CC license)

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