Why President Obama could lose in 2012

ABC-Washington Post poll June 7. Click to view.

In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan asked the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” and defeated incumbent President Jimmy Carter.  In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton reminded himself, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and unseated incumbent President George H.W. Bush.

I’m not so foolish as to try to predict the outcome of the 2012 election.  Many things could happen in the next 17 months.  But right now the United States is in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and there is no reason to think things will be much better anytime soon.

The Democrats’ best hope is that the Republicans will nominate Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman or some other candidate whose appeal is limited to Fox News fans and Tea Party activists, and campaign on Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposals to voucherize Medicare and privatize Social Security.

The Republicans, however, may not cooperate.  I expect them to nominate Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty or some other Republican governor with a solid record, and keep the focus on the economy.  I do not think the Republicans have any good ideas of how to turn things around, but neither do the Democrats, and the Democrats, as incumbents, get the praise and the blame for how things are.

Now President Obama could make the argument that things would be even worse if John McCain had been elected.  He could make the argument that he could have done more except for Republican obstruction in Congress.  Those arguments might have some weight if he were fighting for a program to make things better – a public works program to repair the crumbling U.S. infrastructure, say, or the “cramdown” plan to allow U.S. bankruptcy courts to help restructure mortgages.  But the only things he has fought for were the second TARP bailout and reappointment of Ben Bernanke as chair of the Federal Reserve Board.

I don’t think the American voting public has confidence in either the Democrats or the Republicans.  The Democratic upsurge in 2006 and 2008 reflected discontent with President George W. Bush; the Republican upsurge in 2010 reflected discontent with President Obama.  Each party in turn is being given an opportunity to get the country moving again, but neither party will get an electoral majority unless they make good use of the opportunity.

Click on The 10-Word Question That Could Cost Obama the Election for analysis by Nate Silver on his FiveThirtyEight web log, which is devoted to polling and other statistical data.  The 10-word question is, of course, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Click on Obama faces more anxiety, less excitement for an Associated Press report on how the economy affects President Obama’s prospects in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Click on GOP candidates unpopular at home for results of a poll that show that, except for Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico,  all the principal Republican candidates are unpopular in their home states.  I don’t think that’s a fatal handicap, however.

CBS News poll. Click to view.

Click to view.

[Added 6/17/11]  Click on Retraction: Tim Pawlenty is not a moderate for my second thoughts about his candidacy.

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