Contrary to the wet dreams many have on the subject of Obama’s re-election in 2012, not only is it not assured, but there are several major obstacles to that re-election. In this post, I’m going and try to detail these, and do so with the minimum of partisan basis.
Before I begin I wish to be clear: I am not predicting Obama’s defeat here. Obama, should he and his team address these issues in a workman like way, he could be re-elected.
I have grouped these stumbling blocks as follows:
Structural – The structural changes to the election that makes 2012 different than 2008
Issues – The issues that will likely determine the course of the election
Political – The politics that will effect and shape the 2012 election.
With the 2010 Census resulted in major movement in both Congressional seats and Electoral College votes. If all voting and states won in 2008 stayed the same, in 2012, Obama would win… but with 6 less Electoral Votes (EV)… that is a net 6 EV moved from states that Obama won to those that he lost.
So keeping those states as a starting point Obama ‘starts’ with 359 EV to a GOP 179 EV or a difference of 180, or with the GOP needing to flip 91 EV to win.
If we then look at the states that Obama won by the smallest margins we find:
(EV) Obama McCain Difference
- 11 Indiana 1,367,000 1,341,000 26,000
- 15 North Carolina 2,123,000 2,109,000 114,000
- 29 Florida 4,144,000 3,939,000 205,000
- 18 Ohio 2,708,000 2,501,000 207,000
- 13 Virginia 1,958,000 1,726,000 232,000
86 EV 784,000 vote difference
Which leaves New Mexico and Nevada…
5 New Mexico 464,000 344,000 120,000
6 Nevada 532,000 412,000 120,000
Flipping either of these to the GOP, and Obama loses. Adding just one to the list above and it means that about 950,000 votes in 6 states move to the GOP and Obama has lost. For those of you that remember, these are new numbers, reflecting now the change in the Electoral College Votes for 2012, Obama ‘loses’ one state as a buffer from defeat (in 2008 the GOP would need to take both, in 2012 they need only one. This is what makes this a structural change).
Indiana (43.9% Obama approval), Florida (45.8%), Ohio (47.4%), have been traditionally safe GOP states, and trended back to the GOP in 2006 in a big way. North Carolina (46.9%), and Virginia (46.6%) while less sure than the others, are both within easy range of the GOP.
Which leaves New Mexico (48.6%) and Nevada (47.0%)… and no room for error anywhere else. And there are all states that in polling don’t nearly like him as much now as they did then. Gallup reports that Obama’s approval rates in these states are below his national average and below his 2008 vote totals. Also in that poll we see that there are now even more states for Obama to be concerned about:
New Hampshire 41.3% approval (4 EV)
Colorado 45.2% (9EV)
Pennsylvania 46.3% (20EV)
Maine 46.4% (4EV)
The most Republican of those states, New Hampshire, with 4 EV were it to flip could make the difference… or we might be tied. (A tie would go into the House, the current sitting House, not the one elected in 2012, and the GOP would win)
So structurally the battle moves into smaller states, many in the far west, many not the traditional home of Democratic strength, (no large cities with entrenched Democratic political machines, no large union populations) and with smaller populations… all playing to the fact that it will be much harder to GOTV there… there is only so much of it there. Nevada’s SOS is a Democrat. New Mexico’s is a Republican. Add to that, Obama’s need to hang on to those additional states, NH, CO, PA, and ME that while not close in 2008, now would seem to not be too Obama friendly.
Structurally, 2012 is not at all friendly to Obama.
James Carville comes to haunt us once again: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Carville’s words are more powerful still, as it seems that the economy in 2012 will be much the same in style as it was in 1992: better statistically than it is in mood. This will only get worse as inflation picks up. And while some will argue the point that inflation is (somehow) ‘good’ the average voter seeing their food costs and gasoline costs go up and up while their income, should they have one, stays flat.
Gallup reports that:
Thirty-two percent of Americans said the economy is "getting better" during the week ending March 20, a slight decline from the 34% of the prior two weeks. Fewer Americans currently feel the economy is improving than held that expectation a year ago, when 35% said things were getting better. Americans were more optimistic about the economic outlook in the earlier part of 2011 than they are now.
I use this only to illustrate the point that right now, as the economy is posting some improving numbers; the mood of voters has not kept up. This is very much like 1992, and makes it very dangerous for Obama to make much of an improving economy.
It won’t help Obama that by October 2012 unemployment will have likely run out for most everyone (anyone unemployed before November 2010). Further unemployment has hit union industrial workers, minorities and recent college graduates the hardest… all important Obama / Democratic constituencies. (It should be stated: no union work = no union dues = no or less union campaign funds.)
The economy is going to have to improve significantly… and feel that way to many more people before it will be a positive for Obama. Gallup also reports that 3 of 4 people know someone that is unemployed. That is a huge penetration, and if it’s close to that in Oct 2012, Obama will have difficulties.
Healthcare – the best that the new healthcare law does in polling is 46% – 44% it’s a good thing and that’s in Gallup. Some polling has it 40 – 60 bad. Worse still for Obama, independents are 37 – 51 against it.
As Gallup said:
These reactions reflect a lot of politics and perhaps less reality, given that a full assessment of the real-world effects of the law is not possible at this time, because many of its provisions have not yet taken effect. Still, in politics, perception often becomes reality. And in that regard, President Obama and Democratic leaders who supported the bill currently face a public that is less than overwhelmingly positive about the bill and its promised ability to fix healthcare problems in the U.S.
Healthcare, the signature ‘accomplishment’ of Obama’s first term remains unpopular.
The National Debt – this will either be one of the major signature issues in 2012, or perhaps it will have been ‘settled’ by that point later this year in some grand bargain with the Tea Party / GOP in Congress. Gallup reported in January that “focus on the federal deficit has been edging up… numerically the highest Gallup has recorded in at least a decade.”
The debt has exploded under Obama. By Oct 2012 Obama will have produced three years of budgets… each with more than a trillion dollar deficit. You might want to explain them away, yet those are the facts and they are beyond reasonable dispute. The absolute best way to combat this is to make a deal with the Tea Party / GOP in Congress, thus taking this issue off the table. To do so would mean that one of the largest GOP talking points would be gone, Obama would once again be seen as the great post-partisan uniter, etc, etc. To do so would come at some cost: to take massive political capital, actively work to form and shape the debate, and in the end sell out the leftwing of his party, particularly those in Congress… the very leadership that gave him Healthcare reform. This could be done… not the least with the cover that Obama’s own Deficit Commission has provided.
In the end I doubt it will happen. Obama has shown little interest in being that engaged, less still in much compromise and lesser still in reducing the deficit.
Gay marriage, DADT, abortion, crime, the other components of domestic policies don’t look to figure much into the 2012 election… at least not at this point in the process.
Foreign Policy –
Will the world be a better place in October of 2012? Or will half of it be in political upheaval and the other half lay in smoking ruin?
Right now, while nothing is certain, I would think the latter to be the better bet than the former.
This is one area of policy where a president can be seen as doing nothing, and get blamed for it. The world is vastly more unstable then it was just 2 years ago and how things ‘turn out’ by October of 2012 will have some effect on the election. We could have a Middle East laying in radioactive ruin (an exchange between Iran and Israel) or just your old run-of-the-mill smoking ruin… or democracy might be breaking out all over.
Will we be out of Iraq by then? (likely) Afghanistan (likely not) Libya (maybe… who even knows what it is we are doing, or going to do there?) And what of Syria? Pakistan? Or Iran? “Reaching out” to Iran has gotten Obama nothing more than bloody fingers for his effort. North Korea? Africa, Europe, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela…
Whole lot of instability around the world right now. Increasingly it looks as though the US and by direct extension Obama, doesn’t have a handle on things. This perception more than anything else might hurt Obama in this area more than anything else short of a direct attack on the US. This appearance of weakness, of policy drift, can grow on itself especially if those that mean ill see 2012 as maybe their last chance to act. North Korea into the South, Venezuela into Columbia, Iran attacking Israel.
I don’t see much opportunity for foreign policy to help Obama over the next 18 months… and a whole lot of opportunity for foreign policy to bite him. Worse still for him, it is mostly out of his control, and in the hands of people that not only don’t care about him, but are a bit unstable themselves.
This I expect will be the most controversial section. And in that, let us get the most controversial issue out of the way: Lighting will not strike twice.
It won’t. It can’t. Not going to happen.
Obama rode the tide of a very ambiguous slogan “Yes We Can!” into office in 2008. Backed by the freshness of youth, almost no public record to speak of, a willing and captivated press, being the first Black to capture a major party nomination, Obama rode into the White House on nothing much more than “Hope”
The promise of a fresh start in 2008 will be replaced by his record of the last 4 years in 2012.
Democrats – The first problem Obama will face in this is by then, the 4th year, the thrill is gone. Like romance, the heat and passion of those first crazy months have been replaced by the reality of actually living together, getting things done in life and figuring out how to love each other while not killing the other person. (Please note: my personal experience with those last two sentences makes me an expert… perfect record… failed every time.) Add to that: Can Obama get anymore voters to the polls in 2012 that he didn’t get there in 2008, what with all the excitement there was in 2008?
By way of example… Gary Indiana. Gary is widely regarded as being the place and the voters that put Obama over the top in Indiana in 2008. Gary got $266 million in stimulus money and has, according to the federal "recipient reported data" created a grand total of 327 jobs. That’s $800,000 per job. Gary has lost 20% of its population in the last ten years. Most people that voted for Obama saw nothing of that money… their world is pretty much the same as it was before. You can repeat this story again and again across the country… though most of the time it will have happened in cities that are located in deep blue states, so they don’t matter much to me in the here and now. The point remains that by 2012 not much has happened to help Obama’s core voting blocks, so expecting them to turnout with the same vigor, excitement and ‘hope’ as in 2008 is foolish at best.
There is also the issue of Obama’s war fighting and foreign policy with his own party. Again the question is: just how will the giving, the work, and the turnout on the left be for a president that many are decrying as being ‘just like George Bush?’ In not closing GITMO, in expanding the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan, and least we forget Libya, Obama is clearly throwing over his own base. “Presidential” you say? Well maybe… but just how happy will those on the far left be with him? How hard will they work? How much money will they give? More? Or less? Remember the angry right that stayed home in 2006 over the immigration bill? Or in 2008 over TARP and the other bailouts?
I think that it is only fair to say that real policy decisions… as opposed to the hoped for policies in 2008, will result in less than the level of enthusiasm the left had in 2008. To be clear: even if this takes place, and even if it’s twice the level I think it might be… in most places, most states, you won’t be able to see it much. In 2008 in California Obama got 8,274,473 votes, McCain got 5,011,781, and Nader 108,381. So… even if 4 times the people vote for Nader (or just stay home) in 2012 than did in 2008 and Obama loses those 400,000 votes. Likely this would not make a difference in Obama carrying the state. Many states like: New York, Massachusetts, Maryland could do the same without affecting the overall outcome of the race in that state. But in those close states, any falling off of enthusiasm could have a profound effect.
The GOP – The GOP has going into 2012 the momentum to be sure. And they are likely to keep it and build on it. As I noted above, unless Obama sells his own people out, and makes a deficit cutting deal with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, the same issues that rocketed the GOP into control of the House, and put the GOP in control of the largest number of state legislative seats since 1928 will still be in play.
At the start of Election Day 2010, Democrats controlled both chambers in 27 states, to the GOP’s 14; eight were divided (Nebraska is nonpartisan). By the next morning, Republicans had taken control of 19 chambers, giving them the majority in 26 state legislatures. And the number of new seats for Republicans—some 675—was truly historic. In 2010 Republicans put up 822 candidates more for state legislatures than they did in 2008, while Democrats had 50 fewer candidates than in 2008.
While true, this means the GOP has more seats to defend. This also gives them a much larger party base, far more ‘boots on the ground’ than ever before. Add in the US Senate races 23 Democratic seats against 10 for the GOP… as many as 7 Democratic seats are in play in 2012. Of course, the GOP need only pick up 4 of those to win control of the Senate.
The GOP has a lot going for it in 2012, and much to fight for. And new resources with which to work.
Independents – It is almost a cliché that Independents were ‘suckered’ into the Hope and Change’ of the 2008 Obama campaign and will not be again. There is some evidence to back this up. Obama’s relationship with the American voter right now is at best tenuous… less than 50% approve of his job, 51% say he does not deserve to be re-elected. (Only 46% say that he does). His loss has been most telling among independents… polling finds that only 37 percent of independents approve of the work Obama has been doing in office.
Independents are likely to be where the general election is won or lost. Right now 18 months or so out, Obama is losing them. (Some are saying that the Libya speech and the American Exceptionalism contained in it, was nothing more than a bid to reclaim these independents. I don’t think so.) This is the single best reason for him to make a deal with the Tea Party in the House. Will he? Will he tack to the center? Will it work? Only time will tell… but I don’t think he’ll even try.
Tactics – In 2012 Obama can and will be attacked on his record, these issues, something that McCain was not good at… hell… Hilary couldn’t find a way to attack him. That just won’t be the case in 2012. The attacks will (had better) come hot and heavy. Different in 2012 will be Obama’s use of the power of the incumbency. The circus like coverage that follows the president… any president when he is traveling, or speaking. The White House, Air Force One, even the Seal on the podium all powerful tools in any re-election campaign. (If Donald Trump did nothing else he proved that if you hit Obama he bleeds. Every GOP candidate needs to take note and HIT HIM!)
Also different this time around: Obama won’t be running against George W Bush. I say that even though he as of this week (May 25th ) was in fact doing just that. But I really think that after 4 years the people just won’t be buying the ‘it was messed up when I got here line. Their response is ‘yeah, okay sure… now what have you done in the last 4 years?’
The Media – The Mainstream media will, once again, be in the tank for Obama. That is the fact, and to most any thinking person it should be beyond dispute. (one need only look at how they deal with Libya, look at the coverage of the Libyan speech from March 28th ). The question is: just how will this affect the election in 2012? I don’t think that it will directly affect the election. By now, everyone knows that they are in the tank, so their coverage will be, and I think it will be discounted by the general public.
Along those lines, more and more people are getting their news / information from sources outside the MSM. As such, the GOP candidate will have in 2012 a much better chance to be heard… and heard in a positive light.
Given the total weight of those things I’ve listed, Obama’s re-election is far from a sure thing, and it fact is problematic at best. I don’t say it can’t happen, only that it is, at this point in history, difficult.