US & Canada

Obama needs to hone economic message to win in 2012

President Obama says he wants to light sparks across America. But at the moment he's like a man repeatedly flicking a lighter, getting a spark but no flame. He has to sharpen his economic message, or indeed his economic performance, if he is to win in 2012.

The recent poll showing Mitt Romney slightly ahead must scare the White House. I know it's only one poll, look where we are in the cycle, yatter, yatter.

An even more recent one puts the president 13 points ahead. So I've been among those keen to tip a bucket of cold water on those getting unduly excited.

But while you can throw a cordon of caution around one poll, the state of the economy does put Obama in mortal peril.

Obama speaking at a community college
The president's regular talks on "real issues" don't garner much attention

At the moment he hardly seems to be trying. Perhaps it is the old Obama cool: Don't change the strategy because of a few bad figures, keep your powder dry until next year, don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes and all that.

He's certainly shooting blanks at the moment. Today he made another of those slightly forlorn forays into the real world, to talk about the issue that worries Americans the most. He does it regularly. Just about every week. It rarely gets reported.

Today's trip to a community college in Virginia earns him this tiny headline in the Washington Post: "Obama: More job training programs will boost manufacturing sector and drive economic growth."

Louder bark

It hardly starts any fires. Actually he was somewhat more inspirational than that. When he talked of lighting a spark, he meant helping people get jobs through a scheme called Skills for America, saying: "There are too many people out there who are still out of work - without a job that allows them to save a little money or to create the life they want for their families. That's unacceptable to me. It's unacceptable to all of you."

He's certainly not running away from his basic left of centre message saying: "We understand what it takes to build a stronger economy. We know it's going to require investing in research and technology that will lead to new ideas and new industries. We know it means building the infrastructure, the roads and bridges, and manufacturing the new products here in the United States of America that create good jobs. Above all, it requires training and educating our citizens to out-compete workers from other countries."

He doesn't say where the money is coming from, and people don't seem persuaded. Here's another poll. One in four Americans say the economy is the president's biggest failing.

And we all know when it comes to winning elections it is still "the economy, stupid". If the economic figures don't change he will have to be a record breaker to win in 2012.

No president since FDR has won with unemployment higher than 7.2% - at the moment it is 9.1 %.

It is perhaps going a bit far to say he's the underdog as one blog does, but he needs to bark a bit louder.