In the high stakes of political combat, perceptions can matter as much as, or more than, reality. Maybe that's why Barack Obama's numbers are creeping up in some polls.
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll reports that Obama's overall job approval score has risen to 50 percent. Pundits and other pollsters tell us the improvement is largely due to a belief among a growing number of Americans that the economy is showing signs of improvement.
The official unemployment rate as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has fallen to 8.3 percent, and BLS tells us that 243,000 jobs were created in the private sector last month. Stocks have climbed nicely in the past couple of weeks, improving worker retirement accounts, and that has fed perceptions that the economic recovery is at last gaining some strength.
Whether Obama's big spending on public works programs have had anything to do with this is food for a very vigorous debate, but that's another matter.
But "facts are stubborn things," as John Adams once said, and Americans are not entirely convinced that the economy is as fully on the mend as Obama wants us to believe. In fact, the Times/CBS poll says more Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy (50 percent) than approve (44 percent).
They also give him very poor marks on his handling of the budget deficit -- a top concern among voters this year. It has been menacingly hovering between $1.4 trillion and $1.3 trillion in the last three years under his command and is headed for another $1.3 trillion deficit next year.
A whopping 59 percent give him bad fiscal grades on this issue.
But there are other, more trustworthy polls that suggest many Americans still harbor doubts about how good a job Obama is doing overall, and about his handling of the economy and the budget deficit that threatens to engulf our country in debt for generations to come. The venerable and highly respected Gallup Poll, which conducts daily tracking polls throughout the country, has put the president's weekly average job approval score in the mid-40s for several months now.
Gallup reported Thursday that just 43 percent approved of the job he is doing, while 48 percent disapproved.
Americans are busy people, struggling to earn a living, pay their mortgages and make ends meet. They hear on the nightly network news that unemployment has fallen to 8.3 percent, and it sounds like good news -- but the shallow TV reports leave out the facts that would give that figure a much gloomier context.