October 28 , 2011
Will Obama Win or Lose in 2012?
We are now 12 months away from the 2012 Presidential election, and President Obama’s chances of winning look pretty poor. The primary reason is the economy, with unemployment still over 9%, and economic growth this year running less than 2% so far. These kinds of numbers do not bode well for an incumbent. On top of that, consumer sentiment remains very negative, and Obama’s approval rating is down around 40%. Usually, an incumbent needs an approval rating of around 50% to be likely to win reelection.
Last spring, things were looking better for the President. Job growth had finally seemed to accelerate to over 200,000 per month, the unemployment rate had dropped from 10.1% to 8.9%, and the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden briefly boosted Obama’s popularity above 50% in polls. If the economy continued to heal at a reasonable rate, Obama would be looking at a fairly easy reelection.
But that spring gave way to summer doldrums, as the economy weakened and the fear of a complete meltdown in Europe over a collapse of the Euro-based system and a systemic financial crisis that would spill into American banks caused the stock market to drop almost 20%. By the end of September, there was great fear of America entering another recession, even though we really hadn’t recovered from the last one, and with the likelihood that unemployment could once again rise over 10%. For Obama, reelection began to look rather difficult, and the Republicans have begun to think that they will likely beat him in 2012.
At this point, the odds look rather poor for Obama. But he does have a number of factors that are in his favor. First and foremost is money. He is out-raising all of his Republican rivals combined, and it looks like he could raise over a billion dollars for his reelection. He also does not have the distraction of a primary challenge from within the party. Although his approval rating is down around 40%, he remains likable to the American people. And despite the poor economy, more Americans blame Bush for the situation than Obama, who has retained the loyalty of his base voters.
He has not had a major scandal in his administration to explain. In foreign policy, his record has been rather solid. He is pulling the army out of Iraq, which most Americans want, he handled Libya very well, and his handling of Afghanistan and Bin Laden is to his credit. He has not had any major foreign policy disaster. Finally, he does have a demographic wind at his back. The US continues to become more diverse with each passing year, while the Republican party has become a very insular White party for the most part. Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Asians, and Muslims are all Democratic voters in the 70-95% range. These large majorities for Obama mean he wins the election with only 40% of the White vote.
On the flip side, the Republicans are unable to find a really excellent candidate to run against Obama. Every member of their field is flawed in some way. The three leading figures all have major handicaps. Herman Cain has no political experience, no money, no organization, and is woefully ignorant of most issues, particularly in foreign policy. Governor Perry has shown himself to be a poor debater without much substance, and his appeal to religious right voters may not be successful in winning a general election. Mitt Romney is the strongest candidate, but he is saddled by his past as a liberal Republican who was once pro-choice, and by his health care plan in Massachusetts which was the basis of Obama’s plan. Romney is also a Mormon, and that may cost him the support of the evangelical Christian base of the Republican Party, which does not see Mormons as a type of Christian.
The 2012 election will be extremely close. It will turn on a couple of key factors. If the unemployment rate starts to fall and we avoid another recession, Obama will likely win. If the Republicans nominate someone other than Romney they will lose. But if Romney is the candidate, and the economy continues its weakness till next summer, then he will become President.