Monday, November 7, 2011

Can Obama Turn The Tide?

Yesterday was exactly one year from the upcoming 2012 presidential election. With history and the polls running against him, Barack Obama will have to pull off a surprise of epic proportions to save his presidency. Republicans should not let their guard down, however, because even with the odds against him, the beleaguered president could still pull it off.

The majority of polls show Obama’s approval ratings in the low 40s. The Democrat-leaning Gallup poll puts him at 43%. Ironically, the only president since the Second World War to hold onto the presidency with favorable ratings that low was Richard Nixon. Nixon was at 49% until the Democrats nominated Jellyfish George McGovern and handed Nixon a landslide victory. At this point in their presidencies, Jimmy Carter had a favorable rating of 32% and Lyndon Johnson was at 42%. Carter went on to lose to Ronald Reagan, and Johnson withdrew from contention as his poll numbers continued to plummet.

On the other hand, at this point in his presidency, Republican George H. W. Bush (Bush the Elder) had a 59% approval rating, and still lost to Democrat Bill Clinton in a three-way race. However unlikely the entrance of a third party candidate may be at this point, anything is possible, and H. Ross Perot proved it could tilt an election. Clinton was a minority president, garnering only 43% of the total votes, but winning in the Electoral College. Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln were both minority presidents, but won their reelections thanks to third party candidacies.

Obama is in the low 40s, but the old rule of thumb of needing 50% or more was disproved with George W. Bush (Bush the Lesser) in his reelection bid. Bush was at 48% just prior to the election, but still squeaked out a victory.

Enthusiasm for the out-of-power party candidate also plays a role. As low as Obama’s approval ratings are, no Republican currently in the field has generated enough enthusiasm to clearly overcome the advantages of incumbency. Reagan generated considerable excitement among conservatives, moderate Republicans and the “Reagan Democrats.” No current Republican demonstrates that kind of energy. In the case of “generic” Republican candidates, the Republicans tend to match or slightly exceed Obama’s numbers.

But when it comes to actual Republican candidates already vying for the nomination, Obama generally comes out on top, albeit within the margin of error. In state matchups, battleground states are essentially even matches with no clear victor. Ohio and Florida may determine the final election results, and there is no strong leader in Ohio. In Florida polls, only Mitt Romney tied Obama with all the others behind (but some still within the margin of error).

The economy is likely to be the most important factor in the election. And it will come down largely to unemployment numbers and whom the public trusts to bring those numbers down. Economists can play their intellectual games of declaring the recession over by using figures showing a quarter of improvement, which would seemingly help the incumbent. But economists don’t win elections. Voters do, and right now the unemployment rate still hovers officially at 9% or above. On the subject of trust, Obama takes a big hit for having promised much lower figures at this point..

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Depression aside, no Twentieth Century president has won reelection with an unemployment rate above 7.2%. Both Roosevelt and Reagan were charismatic leaders who were able to overcome high unemployment numbers. Reagan entered his second presidential campaign with a 7.2% unemployment figure, but convinced the American people that if they stayed the course, those numbers would improve (as they did, dramatically in his second term). There’s serious doubt that Obama’s fading charisma will be enough to pull off the same thing.

Obama’s Treasury Secretary faces the reality of a long-term unemployment rate of 9% plus, but says “[Obama] could still be reelected with that because he has got a better strategy for helping heal the wounds of this country.” Better than whose? This is another Obama-style dance around the real issue. Obama promised that by the end of his first term, the unemployment rate would be at 6% or lower. Even if there is a downtick in unemployment, it would take more than Obama can deliver to reach those levels.

To go with the empty suit, Obama has made empty promises, and then stood aloof from the fray. Only now has he begun to enter the battle personally. But his newfound executive efforts are not playing well with the general public. He demands that the Congress pass his latest big government jobs bill “right away.” And Congress yawns. Meanwhile, Republicans have offered no less than 27 different plans for creating jobs in the private sector, and have been rebuffed by the Democrats and their president at every turn.

It does not look good for Obama, but counting him out would be a fatal error. One thing that will be absolutely essential to beat him is that once the primaries are over and a candidate has been chosen, Republicans rally enthusiastically around the candidate. Obama still has the ability to raise huge chunks of money (as much as an estimate of a billion dollars). He already has a fifty state election network in place, which has been in campaign mode since the day after his inauguration. No Republican yet has such a sophisticated network. He has an e-mail list of more than nine million supporters. No Republican candidate thus far has shown the ability to maneuver social networks and the internet the way Obama has.

So before you put your feet up on the coffee table and relax, remember that Obama is counting on Republican lethargy and cocksureness about his “inevitable defeat.” It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. With overconfidence, continued in-fighting, and jabs at “RINOs” and moderates, we could all wake up the day after the election and find that grinning community organizer still sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.


AndrewPrice said...

I don't think Obama can recover for two reasons. First, he doesn't understand why people don't like him. He thinks it's just that he hasn't been mean enough to the right people yet. He doesn't understand how poorly that plays in the country. Secondly, even if he did understand this, he doesn't know how to change. I truly don't see him having the skill to make a course correction in the right direction. I think he will just keep playing golf and turn up the rhetoric and it will come to a great surprise to him when he loses in the biggest landslide ever -- especially since polls always tighten before a race, even if it's only imaginary.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I think you're right. It's simply that at times I feel like Cassandra--able to see the future but unable to do anything about it. And my only genuine fear is that Republicans will relax and forget to take the fight to Obama. I do think he'll lose, but I'm not so sure about a landslide, particularly in the Electoral College. On the other hand, you've brightened my day even thinking about a landslide.

Tennessee Jed said...

There was a great article the other day which showed how Obama was approaching unelectability. That said, there are plenty of wild cards in any situation involving presidential politics. I think the group he lost (white independents and moderate "Reagan" Democrats are more likely to vote in 2012 than some of the people who voted for the first time in 2008 and didn't see the change they had been promised.

It is a crying shame the Repubs cannot find a candidate who could seal the deal, because he is sooooooo beatable.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: It is those independents, moderates and Reagan Republicans who will make the difference. We need to win, and win big. If we win big, they can't cheat. Which is why I keep harping on the idea that we can't relax, we can't let down, we can't start fighting with each other, and we can't assume anything.

If everything stays about the same, and there are no big surprises that work to Obama's advantage, this is not the Democrats' election to win, it's the Republicans' election to lose. Another Dole or McCain performance and we could do just that. We already have a taste of the kind of dirty campaign the Democrats are going to wage with the Cain allegations. We need to nominate then support a candidate who can catch the mud they sling and throw it right back in their faces.

ambisinistral said...

If Obama loses I imagine he figures that he won't be out of politics, and I think that consideration will keep him from tracking to the right.

He's young and if the minority vote stays solidly behind him he'll be a credible force in the Democratic 2912 elections -- or who knows, maybe he'll bolt to the greens which is a better fit for him.

He is not like Carter who had no constituency when he lost. His mischief will continue regardless unless masses of his followers desert him.

Unknown said...

Ambi: That's a horrendous thought. He could spend four years community organizing and gathering his radical sheep back into the fold and make another run. I think that the one flaw in the theory is what will happen if and when the Republicans take back the White House and the Senate. If they do their job right, and the economy improves measurably, and unemployment drops to 6% or less, he wouldn't have a chance. But if the mess he and his fellow Democrats have made cannot be undone quickly enough and boldly enough, the unthinking public might be lulled once again with his siren song.

Since I was citing historical facts, I guess I should also throw in the factoid that only one president has ever lost reelection then come back to win four years later. That was DemocratGrover Cleveland. The tariff policies of his successor Republican Benjamin Harrison made a bad economy worse, and during what was called the cleanest campaign in history (neither candidate actually campaigned personally), Cleveland re-took the White House.

I don't think "clean" and "honest" are words that many people would think of to describe Barack Obama, and it's unlikely that a successor Republican White House and Congress could make the economy worse than it was when he was in office.

Also, as I mentioned in the article, even if the economy doesn't improve much during the first term of Obama's successor, a man of Reagan's stature could provide the American public with sufficient trust that he would get the job done to be reelected. I'm not sure who in the current Republican race that person might be. I do know that nobody in his right mind could think that Obama is the answer to a less-than stellar Republican recovery.

T-Rav said...

Good analysis, LawHawk. I think the ending paragraph or two is especially important to keep in mind. As much as I can't stand Romney, and it will gall me to do so, I will unhesitatingly vote for him next November if he becomes the nominee. I just really want it to be somebody else.

StanH said...

We must never take anything for granted. This fight doesn’t end when Barry is turned away, which I think he will be, my bet 45-5, one short of the great Reagan in ’80, with the right candidate. My concern is the continuing pressure that must be exerted on statist Washington through several election cycles, returning this country back closer to it’s founding. But as was stated we throw out a McCain/Dole, I still think Republicans win, but not by the potential landslide.

Unknown said...

T-Rav: Romney wasn't (and still isn't) in my top tier of Republican presidential candidates. But if he wins the nomination, I'll quickly declare I've been with him since 2008, always supported him, and think he'll be the greatest president of all time. I'll say or do almost anything to keep Obama from being reelected. I'll save my true confessions until after the election.

Unknown said...

Stan: I hope you and Andrew are right. I agree with you that if the Republican is a McCain or Dole type, we'll move forward on cutting down the size of the federal behemoth, but not at nearly the rate we need to. A Romney victory would roll back much of the Obama damage, but we need to be rolling things back to about the Eisenhower era, when the government's mission creep began again after the Roosevelt era.

Joel Farnham said...


I agree. Obama has almost no conception of how the economy works. Also CEOs are deliberately slowing their rehiring because of Obama's policies. Some companies are hurting because of this. But if they rehire, they run the risk of getting screwed later. So, right now, they are playing a waiting game.

The risk we take with getting a Crony Capitalist like Romney or Perry is that we will face the socialist problem again. I will only accept that if we HAVE to. Obama needs to go.

Unknown said...

Joel: You're right. It's small to medium-sized business which are the backbone of American capitalism and the largest creators of new jobs. Romney and Perry are a bit too buddy-buddy with big business and the corporations to suit me. Those small and medium sized businesses are the ones least likely to hire in an economy which may take another downturn. Currently, they're also left facing regulations and new fees and taxes which would be crippling. So they're hedging their bets, holding back on hiring, and preserving capital rather than using it. It's a matter of simple survival. If we can get a pro-business president, one who is not part of the crony socialism gang and ready to cut taxes, regulations and hidden fees, not to mention repeal Obamacare, those businesses will start to flourish and hire again.

T-Rav said...

LawHawk, that may be a little too much for me to manage (besides, who here would believe me?), but I would certainly cease and desist all my criticism of the man. As you and Joel point out, though, neither he nor Perry are entirely trustworthy where rolling back big government is concerned, and they are both near the very bottom of my list.

Unknown said...

T-Rav: All you have to do is go to law school. You learn to say the most outrageous things with a perfectly straight face. The better you are at it, the more they pay you. LOL

Regaining the Senate and holding onto the House with a strong conservative base is going to be very important, especially if we get a "big government, compassionate conservative" in the White House.

TJ said...

"T-Rav: All you have to do is go to law school. You learn to say the most outrageous things with a perfectly straight face. The better you are at it, the more they pay you. LOL"

No wonder so many of our representatives are lawyers! ;)

Unknown said...

TJ: True, true, true.

rlaWTX said...

"T-Rav: Romney wasn't (and still isn't) in my top tier of Republican presidential candidates. But if he wins the nomination, I'll quickly declare I've been with him since 2008, always supported him, and think he'll be the greatest president of all time. I'll say or do almost anything to keep Obama from being reelected. I'll save my true confessions until after the election."

Excellent point!!!!

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