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The Number That Scares the White House Most

The White House usually publicly refrains from getting too caught up in the poll obsessed chatter that dominates the Washington political world when a new survey makes a front page splash.

But with the midterm elections less than four months away, the conversation inside the press briefing room over the last couple of days has certainly been as focused on politics and polls as it has been on administration policy.

And that’s unlikely to change much between now and Nov. 2.

It was hard to find a silver lining for President Obama in the ABC News/Washington Post poll numbers out Tuesday.

“If you look at certain numbers in there, you ask them — ask voters, particularly on the economy, who do you trust more to make the right decisions, and the answer is they trust more Democrats than they do Republicans,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily press briefing Tuesday.

Asked if most of the discontent represented in the troubling poll numbers is mostly due to the economy, Gibbs replied in the affirmative. “Judging from what I read from the poll, I think that most of this frustration is from the economy, yes. That was my reading,” he said.

That economic frustration is proving extraordinarily stubborn, which provides continued opportunity for Republicans as campaigns prepare to head into the post-Labor Day sprint to Election Day.

In fact, the one number that causes more heartburn in the West Wing than any other in the poll is the 27 percent of Americans who say they believe the economy is getting better. More than 7 in 10 Americans believe the economy is staying the same or getting worse.

Any politician will tell you that the key part of President Ronald Regan’s charm on the campaign trail was his ability to sell an optimistic and forward-looking vision of better times to come to the country. This is an electorate woefully pessimistic about the country’s economic standing which makes selling a message of recovery and growth for the future all the more likely to fall on deaf ears.

Between now and November, there will be endless job approval numbers and generic congressional ballot match-ups, but keep your eye on whether or not Americans are starting to feel any greater sense that the economy will improve.

That is precisely what the president’s advisers are watching because they know without it, their mission to minimize expected Democratic losses in November will prove considerably tougher.

Be sure to check out my entire conversation on today’s poll numbers with Jim Lehrer on Tuesday’s NewsHour right here:

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