Feature

2012: Could Obama win, despite everything?

It's not just the state of the economy that will determine the winner of next year's election.

The next presidential election is exactly a year away, said Nate Silver in The New York Times, and for all the disarray in the Republican field, it just “might not be a winnable one” for President Obama. Polls now indicate that while most Americans “understand that Obama inherited a terrible predicament,” they’re beginning to doubt “he’s up to the job” of reviving the economy. He now heads into election year saddled with a higher unemployment rate (9 percent) and a lower approval rating (45 percent) than any president since the one-term Jimmy Carter. A lot depends on whether Republicans nominate a candidate palatable to centrist voters, and whether the economy is improving next fall. If economic growth picks up, I project Obama would have an 83 percent chance of beating Rick Perry, and a 60 percent chance of beating Mitt Romney. But if the recovery continues to sputter, the president’s odds against Perry fall to 41 percent, and a daunting 17 percent against Romney. The bottom line: Obama is  “a slight underdog” to win re-election. 

The president clearly faces “a toxic political environment,” said Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, but the numerical landscape of the Electoral College gives him several paths to victory. Obama needs 270 electoral votes to win re-election. In 2008, he got 365, partly by winning three states—Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia—that are usually red, and sweeping six other swing states—Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, and Ohio. Assuming all the blue states remain in the Democratic column, Obama needs to win only two or three of the nine critical swing states he won in 2008—taking just 23 electoral votes from the 112 available—to regain the White House. “The economy does matter—a lot,” said Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times, but voters know the economic crisis began under President Bush. If the modest recovery continues, independents may be reluctant to change horses midstream. For those reasons, says political scientist Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University, “Obama is very likely to win even if economic conditions do not improve.”

I wouldn’t bet on that, said Adam Yoshida in AmericanThinker.com. Like the failed presidents Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter before him, Obama was elected “amidst tremendous hope that he could personally solve the nation’s problems,” and then flopped. Like Hoover and Carter, Obama is cursed with a “difficult and intellectual personality that has kept him from genuinely engaging with the American people.” Voters see him as the “failed social engineer” who force-fed the country “Obamacare” and $860 billion in ineffective stimulus. “The arc of history clearly points toward defeat.”

Obama does have a “secret weapon,” said Michael Tomasky in TheDailyBeast.com. It’s the Republican Party. The partisan sabotage and stubborn intransigence of GOP congressional leaders have turned off most voters. A new Suffolk University poll found that 59 percent of crucial moderate voters believe that Republicans have been “intentionally stalling efforts to jump-start the economy.” In another poll, 57 percent of all voters view the GOP unfavorably. If Obama can hammer home the message that Republicans have blocked efforts to create jobs and can’t be trusted with more power, he’ll eke out a victory. Republicans are “poisoning” their brand with their extremism, said Steve Kornacki in Salon.com, and “this may be Obama’s best hope for salvation.” Even if voters are ambivalent about Obama, they “will think twice before handing the White House to anyone with an ‘R’ next to his name.”

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