Irrespective of the uninspiring slate of Republican presidential candidates, President Obama is facing a steep uphill reelection battle.
The predicament of Obama’s presidency was highlighted during its best possible week – following the May 2, 2011 elimination of Bin Laden – which produced a meager, soft a short-term bonus of 6%, bouncing Obama to 52% approval rating, before sliding down towards 40%.
From a 69% approval rating “coattail President” on inauguration day, January 20, 2009, Obama collapsed to a 43% “anchor-chained President” on November 13, 2011, according to Gallup. From 44%, Obama’s strong nucleus of support has shrunk to a meager 25%, while his strong nucleus of opposition has expanded from 14% to 40%, according to the “Rasmussen Report.”
Compared with the approval rating of recent US Presidents – during November of their third year in office – Obama is lagging behind, along with his role-model, one-term President, Jimmy Carter: G.W. Bush – 52%, Clinton – 53%, G.H. W. Bush – 55%, Reagan – 53%, Carter – 40%, Nixon – 49%, JFK – 58% and Eisenhower – 78%. In fact, President Obama’s numbers are more concerning than those of non-elected President Ford, who zoomed to 71% upon replacing the impeached President Nixon, crashed to 50% upon pardoning Nixon and deteriorated to 47% following the 1974 midterm election, remaining at 45%-50% until his defeat in the November 1976 election.
Notwithstanding Obama’s Nobel Prize for Peace and 63% approval rating on countering-terrorism, a victory in November 2012 depends, almost entirely, on his own domestic track record, rather than his Republican challenger’s track record. An Obama victory would require a dramatic alteration of the current economic and political landscape in the USA, or an “October Surprise.” Barring an exceptionally qualified, or disqualified, challenger, reelection campaigns are the incumbent president’s to win or to lose.
While the power of incumbency provided sufficient tailwind for the reelection of 21American presidents, the only three presidents who have lost a second term bid since 1932 were hindered by a series of failures and/or mishaps, not nearly as dramatic as those confronting Obama.
- H.W. Bush lost the 1992 reelection campaign, despite his glamorous foreign policy posture, the collapse of the USSR during his term and the astounding 88% approval rating following the 1991 Gulf War. He lost to Clinton, a largely unknown governor of a small state, because of an economic recession, 7% unemployment and $290BN deficit (4.7% of GDP), the broken pledge of “read my lips, no new taxes,” the effectiveness of “it’s the economy stupid,” the rising violence in inner cities and his well-known preference of international – over domestic – issues.
Jimmy Carter lost his 1980 reelection campaign to Reagan whose qualifications were in doubt. Carter lost, regardless of his image as a global peacemaker, due to an economic slowdown which was intensified by a global energy crisis, surging inflation and interest rates, and a general sense of national despair and pessimism, fueled by Carter’s own style and the humiliating hostage-taking of the US embassy staff in Teheran.
Gerald Ford lost the 1976 reelection campaign to “Jimmy Who?” (Carter), a semi-anonymous governor of a southern State. Ford lost in spite of ending the Vietnam War and advancing détente with the USSR and China. He lost due to his pardoning of Nixon, the adverse effects of the Nixon-caused national trauma, the depressed economy, high inflation and the chronic energy shortages.
Just like the three one-termers, during their fourth year, Obama has no lock on his reelection.
In 2008, candidate Obama ran as a centrist, and therefore carried the independent sector, which is the most critical voting bloc – about a third of the constituents. In 2008, he was supported by 62% of independents, compared with 39% in November, 2011. In 2008, Obama was supported by Collin Powell and other moderate Republicans, in 2011 he is perceived as a liberal, while most constituents are center and right-of-center. Self-identified conservatives outnumber liberals 2:1 and most Democrats are not liberal. In 2008, the turnout of young and Afro-American voters peaked as a result of peaked expectations. In 2011, the turnout is expected to diminish to the lower traditional levels, as a result of a peaked disappointment. In 2008, liberal constituents were charged with unprecedented enthusiasm. In 2011, Gallup documents the highest number of conservative voters since 1994, exceeding the number of moderates and twice as many as liberals. In 2008, 78% of American Jews voted for Obama. In 2011, there is a growing disenchantment among the Jewish electorate with Obama’s policy, in general, and policy toward Israel, in particular. The 2010 reapportionment has netted the “McCain States” twelve electorates, in addition to the pick-up of two electorates by Florida, which could switch-over to the Republican column, along with other “battleground” states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and even New Jersey, where Obama’s popularity is plunging.
Most importantly, “it’s the economy stupid!” No American president has been reelected, since 1960, with unemployment above 7.2%, especially when experiencing a 9%+ inflation, a “U-shaped” economic meltdown, a paralyzing sense of uncertainty, a possible double-dip, a collapse of the housing market, a staggering price at the pump, high inflation rates, a shaky stock market, no real GDP growth, an all time high debt, which approaches GDP.
Democrats on Capitol Hill constitute an effective barometer of Obama’s electoral fortunes. They are increasingly reluctant to support his initiatives, since they are apprehensive about a possible reoccurrence of their 2010 midterm devastation, which was caused by the Obama-Effect.
Irrespective of the aforementioned steep hurdles on the path of Obama to reelection, he could still win reelection, provided that dramatic developments occur before November 2012.