Could healthcare be his â€˜No We Canâ€™tâ€™ moment?
Itâ€™s coming up to a year since the last US presidential election and the shine has come off Obamaâ€™s presidency quite rapidly. His approval ratings with Rasmussen went negative during July having started off at around +30%. Thatâ€™s a measure of those with a strong opinion rather than the balance of all expressing a positive or negative view (which is just about equal), but in a country where the turnout is comparatively low, that matters. The Gallup figure gives him an approval rating of 50%.
At the same stage in their presidencies, George W Bush was rated more highly (just) but Clinton less so. Clinton, it should be remembered, was similarly struggling with his ultimately doomed attempt to introduce healthcare reform at the time (though that wasnâ€˜t the only reason for his unpopularity).
That decline in Obamaâ€™s rating begs the question of how likely it is that the president who received more votes than any other candidate in history might not win a second term?
If the Republicans can block healthcare reform despite their weak position in Congress, it will provide an enormous fillip to their morale. Itâ€™s already revealing a weakness in Obamaâ€™s presidency that wasnâ€™t obvious before – while healthcare remains so prominent, itâ€™s diminishing him in the role of president: he still looks half-candidate and half-senator. Spending his time and energy campaigning and arguing about detail does little to allow the aura of office to settle.
Much of the question of the 2012 election revolves around the candidates. The bookiesâ€™ betting odds are currently dominated by candidates from the 2008 race, with the exception of Gov Haley Barbour of Mississippi, and thatâ€˜s probably right: the Republicans traditionally choose experienced, senior members of their party. Sadly, that also means their odds arenâ€™t very attractive.
Obama still retains formidable strengths: the incumbency effect is itself powerful, especially when the president isnâ€™t following a predecessor of the same party; his ability fundraise to unprecedented levels is proven; he is a fine orator; he has been able to motivate voters whoâ€˜ve not been reached before.
Despite all that, we shouldnâ€™t forget that he didnâ€™t win by all that much. McCain gatheredÂ the highest losing total in history and Obamaâ€™s share of the popular vote was smaller than when George HW Bush won in 1988. The redistribution of Electoral College votes is also likely to benefit the GOP, though the demographic changes within those states isnâ€™t. 2012 is very much all to play for.
Obama remains narrowly odds-on with the bookies though has drifted to odds-against on Betfair. With the healthcare debate going the way it is, they will probably drift further yet.