Those who hope to elect a new leader for the United States in 2012 might be tempted to seize on poll numbers showing the American people are deeply displeased with President Barack Obama's job performance. But potential challengers should be warned that it will take a good deal more than the president's low polling numbers to defeat him next year.
A Gallup poll recently found that only 40 percent of Americans approve of the job Obama is doing. That is the lowest rating he has received since he came to office more than two and a half years ago -- and it is almost 30 percent lower than his approval rating when he first took office in January 2009.
Obama enjoyed a bit of a bump in popularity with the recent killing of 9/11 terrorist Osama bin Laden during a U.S. raid on the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was hiding. But as is often the case, the continued weakness of our economy seems to be overriding most other foreign and domestic issues.
Eliminating the threat of bin Laden -- while obviously the right thing to do -- did nothing to solve persistent problems of high unemployment, a depressed housing market, and high food and gasoline prices. And there is still serious anxiety about the massive debt load that the United States is carrying and about the prospect of heavy new taxes when the Bush tax cuts expire.
The president can argue -- quite correctly -- that not all the responsibility for our economic problems can fairly be placed on him and his party. A high percentage of Republicans, for instance, voted for the costly Medicare prescription drug benefit back in 2003 -- though no one seemed to know how to pay for it. That benefit's original cost estimate was $400 billion over 10 years, but the estimate later rose by well over $100 billion more. That took place even before Barack Obama was a U.S. senator, much less president.
But the American people may take Obama to task for many other policies for which he clearly does bear responsibility. Almost no Republicans voted in 2009 for the $862 billion "stimulus," which by any fair measure has been a colossal failure.
The Obama administration also supported trillion-dollar ObamaCare, which threatens states, companies and individuals with various high costs, fees and penalties. Most of the states have, in fact, joined lawsuits to stop unconstitutional ObamaCare, which requires the purchase of government-approved medical insurance.
These policies and others have soured the American people on Obama -- which at least in theory should make him vulnerable in the 2012 election. Indeed, another recent Gallup poll found the president trailing a generic Republican candidate by 47 percent to 39 percent.
That sounds like good news for Republicans, but remember: Obama will not face a "generic" GOP opponent next year. He will face a candidate who has his or her own record to defend, and both strengths and weaknesses.
Who will that candidate be? Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney? Texas Gov. Rick Perry? Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Or will it be one of the other numerous Republican hopefuls?
We don't know. But what we do know is that Republicans will have to field a viable, substantial, soundly conservative candidate if they wish to defeat the incumbent. They will not be able to rely on the president's unpopularity alone to win the White House.
Republicans will need an able candidate who offers an appealing platform that is clearly distinct from the current president's policies.
Do you think they have found one yet?