WASHINGTON -- Can President Obama be defeated in his bid for a second term? It depends, of course, on whom Republicans choose as their candidate, but it's clear that Obama is vulnerable on several major fronts.
His overall job approval polls, which had sunk into the 40s, rose after U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden. The latest Gallup poll puts his job approval/disapproval rating at a tenuous 51 percent to 40 percent. But the weak, high unemployment economy remains his Achilles heel and his lowest job approval number. Just 37 percent approve of Obama's handling of the economy, according to an NBC News poll out this week. That's down from 40 percent in January.
This is the pivotal issue on which Obama will win or lose a second term, and right now the American people and most economists do not see things improving anytime soon. Just 31 percent expect the economy to get better in the next year, and economists at the Fed do not see unemployment falling to normal levels until 2013.
Two bleak numbers tell the story about the Obama economy. The unemployment rate last month rose to 9 percent, despite the 268,000 private sector jobs created in April. The economy barely grew in the past three months, with the nation's economic growth rate falling from a modest 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to this year's anemic 1.8 percent from January to March.
Economic growth that falls below 2 percent is not enough to make even a dent in the jobless rate, which rose last month because many long-term unemployed workers who dropped out of the workforce began looking for jobs again and were counted in the labor pool.
Nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed and more than 40 percent of them have been jobless for 27 weeks or more. Nearly half the states, including the largest industrialized states, have been struggling with unemployment rates of 9 percent or more. Nearly a dozen states are in the double digits.
In recent weeks, new unemployment claims have skyrocketed as high as 474,000 in a single week. Little wonder that most Americans do not expect the jobs picture to improve under Obama's hands-off approach to economic issues -- from over $4 a gallon gas prices, to his failure to act on pending trade agreements that would open up new job-creating export markets for American products.
The other front where Obama is seen as irresponsible and weak is government spending.
In 2007, the year before the economy plunged into the recession, the federal budget deficit was a tame $151 billion, federal revenues rose to a record $2.6 trillion, unemployment was at a low 4.7 percent, and the Dow had soared to over 14,000.