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Finger on the Pulse

Susan Walsh | AP
Susan Walsh | AP
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.

The Iowa caucuses kick off the official steeplechase to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. While the results may not predict the ultimate winner, we can agree that talking about the 2012 elections is no longer premature. It’s time to examine the state of the U.S. electorate.

President Barack Obama’s job performance is rated positively by less than half of Americans. Yet the number who do approve of his performance exceeds — ever so slightly — those who disapprove of the job he is doing.

Many Democrats are disenchanted with the president and expected a bolder agenda and more charismatic leadership in solving long-term problems. Many shake their heads at what they believe is his political naivete in dealing with congressional Republicans. Still, on Nov. 6, it is not likely they will embrace a GOP candidate.

In spite of Newt Gingrich’s recent surge and rise to the top in some preference polls, Mitt Romney remains the favorite among Republicans nationally. Of course, the 50-state process may provide some bumps in the road for both Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich, so another candidate could potentially climb to the top, as did Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.

If the nominee is either Mr. Romney or Mr. Gingrich, the Obama campaign is cheered that most recent polls show the president defeating both in head-to-head match-ups. But Republicans hope the historically weak economy gives them a strong opportunity to reverse that picture.

Voters who are truly independent will carry the day for one candidate or the other, as will the enthusiasm one inspires in the electorate at large, which translates into turn-out. This leads to the matter of the mood of the 2012 voter.

One recent survey revealed a complex picture. The independent, nonpartisan Pew Research Center published the results of a recent comprehensive study of the electorate’s views and found historically strong feelings among voters about Congress.

“Two-in-three voters say most members of Congress should be voted out of office in 2012 – the highest on record,” Pew reports.

But there is a distinct partisan break on this disdain.

“A record-high 50 percent say that the current Congress has accomplished less than other recent Congresses, and by nearly two-to-one (40 percent to 23 percent) more blame Republican leaders than Democratic leaders for this,” Pew reports. “By wide margins, the GOP is seen as the party that is more extreme in its positions, less willing to work with the other side to get things done, and less honest and ethical in the way it governs.”

The economy, which the GOP hopes to use to damage Mr. Obama’s chances at re-election and also taint others on the Democratic ticket, remains troubling to those surveyed by Pew:

“Public assessments of the American economy remain gloomy — about nine-in-ten say the economy is in only fair (38 percent) or poor (53 percent) shape. Looking forward, most say things will either be the same (50 percent) or worse (18 percent) a year from now,” Pew reported. This gloomy view favors Republican candidates.

It will be a long ten months. Changes in partisan control of both chambers of Congress and the White House are, at this moment, entirely up for grabs.

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