Midterm predictions look bad for liberals, in large part because of Obama’s low presidential job rating.  There are a couple of different explanations for the low approval rating.  Pollsters point to a lack of enthusiasm about health care reform, frustration with government over-spending, and the president’s unsatisfactory response to the oil spill. 

But liberals can also blame the struggling economy.  The news editor of Salon.com, Steve Kornacki, tries to explain:

The expansive agenda Obama has pursued provides plenty of specific targets for his foes. But if he had pursued different (or fewer) agenda items, I doubt his overall approval rating would be much different. The diehards would still hate him, the mushier Republicans would still have turned on him (maybe more of them would cite the deficit, instead of, say healthcare), and he’d still be losing swing voters, too. A bad economy causes voters whose opinions are subject to change to view just about all of a president’s agenda items negatively (or to de-emphasize the agenda items that they agree with). A robust economy reverses this phenomenon.

There is some truth in this argument.  But what Kornacki is suggesting is that it doesn’t matter what Obama does, people will turn on him because the economy is bad.  And when the economy turns around, Obama and his liberal friends will be popular again. 

Kornacki compares this midterm dip in Obama approval ratings to a similar downturn of Reagan’s approval ratings from 1980 to 1982.  Look at how the economy turned around from 1982 to 1984!  And do I need to show you an electoral map of the ’84 election?  Kornacki’s point is that Obama will still serve a second term if the economy picks up.

Oooo… But be careful there.  Comparing Obama to Reagan in any piece of data is not really safe. 

Foremost, Kornacki asks, “What will these groups be saying about Obama if the economy improves considerably by 2012?”  But the policies that Obama is pursuing are very different from those pursued by President Reagan (tax increases and more regulation vs. tax cuts and deregulation, for starters).  Many conservatives feel sadly confident that Obama’s ratings will stay low, because they feel sadly confident that his policies will not allow for a robust economic turnaround.  The causal arrow points both ways in this case: A bad economy might bring blame to those in power, but their economic policies also influence economy outcomes.   

And a growing number of economists and business leaders agree that this Administration’s policies are pulling the economy down, instead of bolstering it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce just issued a report on Obama’s economic leadership, and harshly criticized his economic agenda.  The report accuses Obama and Democrats in Congress of not doing enough for job creation and slowing growth with burdensome regulatory and tax policies.  (Shocking, I know.)

So why are Democrats dreading this year’s midterm election?  Kornacki and liberals say, “It’s the economy, stupid.” 

And I say, “It’s economic policy… stupid economic policy.”