Barack Obama struggles as Republicans seek a candidate

US President Barack Obama Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US president's popularity has reached a new low, but Republican tactics have not impressed either

The latest opinion polls put Barack Obama in such a dire position that if the Republicans had a half-decent candidate, many would already be predicting a one-term presidency.

Lots of people in the UK and elsewhere have hardly registered the diving fortunes of a politician in whom so much hope was vested.

But the reasons - as Americans know only too well - are largely to do with the economy.

The latest poll (conducted for the Washington Post and ABC News) gives the president his worst approval rating yet, 43%.

Another 53% disapprove of the way he is running the country.

Just 17% think his economic policies are having a positive effect, while 77% say the country is "on the wrong track".

Obama strategists, battered by this ebbing of support and confidence, are flagging up Thursday's speech by the president about creating more jobs as the beginning of a comeback.

Simultaneously, however, they are telling reporters not to expect too many bold new initiatives.

A better alternative?

With commentators pointing out the similarity of Mr Obama's polls to those of George H W Bush in 1991 (he lost the subsequent election to Bill Clinton), the right is still looking at candidates.

It is clear also from the latest polls that the public did not approve of the recent blocking tactics used by Republicans in Congress to strongarm the president into budget cuts.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption No clear favourite has yet emerged among the Republican presidential candidates

This crisis produced a big fall in the value of American companies on Wall Street.

So where does this wave of public negativity leave the US and the coming presidential contest?

Firstly, it is sobering to watch the downcast way in which the Democratic party faithful are trudging towards the primaries.

At the Gaithersburg Labor Day parade, which I went along to yesterday, canvassers were out in what is a staunchly Democratic part of Maryland.

They were plugging their senator, they were registering voters, and they were talking optimistically about the economy.

But their stickers feature a bold "2012", with an Obama campaign web address so small that it can only be read close up.

None of their giveaways seemed to feature the president's image.

Traditionally in American elections, the incumbent is regarded as having great advantages.

But in this situation, the prophets of economic doom are predicting even worse times ahead.

Sitting in the White House as America careers from stock market fall to baleful job statistics, is nothing but trouble.

As for the right, a selection of grey men has failed to ignite electoral enthusiasm. Devotees of Sarah Palin say she must declare in the next few days or give up the game.

Meanwhile Michelle Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman with a big following in the Tea Party movement has gained some attention as a candidate.

However, her close involvement with the recent congressional budget wrangling antagonised many voters.

Some of her past positions - such as asserting that homosexuality could be "cured" - also limit her appeal to convinced conservatives.

As it stands, the 2012 campaign could easily mark a new low in voter excitement and turn out.

If a convincing Republican comes through the field he or she could easily harness the public mood and terminate the Obama presidency.

If that doesn't happen, and he limps to a second term, it could be as a leader who once embodied optimism, but who has been returned to office for the lack of a better alternative.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites