The connection between political fortunes and material concerns is not exactly a revelation. A sour economy is what torpedoed Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992. It's also the primary reason that the Republicans lost in 2008 to Obama—not his eloquence or policy positions.
It is deeply unfair to expect politicians to take a sickly economy and instantly restore it to health. Yet people, including politicians, act as though elected officials have magic dust that they can sprinkle on the productive sector anytime they want.
[. . .]
Consider Ronald Reagan. In 1982, thanks to a brutal recession, his approval rating fell to a puny 43 percent. Two years later, he was re-elected by a landslide.
Reagan hadn't suddenly transformed himself into a different president. The country didn't undergo an ideological shift. He was merely the beneficiary of a turn in the business cycle. Maybe his policies helped, and maybe they didn't. Either way, the rising prosperity cast him in a flattering light.
Obama's approval rating is higher than Reagan's was in 1982. So neither his critics nor his supporters should make too much of the current polls. Right now, he is stumbling in the dark. By 2012, it may be morning in America.
We all have our reasons for criticizing and defending presidents, but it's still mostly the stupid economy when it comes to their electoral success or failure.