Each presidential election is different. The factors that led to an easy reelection win for Richard Nixon are quite different from the factors that led to Benjamin Harrison’s reelection loss. Yet there is one issue that has been dominant every time an incumbent president has come up for reelection: Whether the president was actually any good at his job. So will the fact that Obama is an awful president be the main issue in 2012?
Historically, whether a president is very good at running the country is usually the most prevalent issue when he is up for reelection. Even controlling for other factors such as amount of powder in wigs and size of mutton chops, if a president is horrible at his job, that is the biggest indicator that he won’t be reelected. In fact, many say the point of having elections is to periodically be able to get rid of a president who isn’t very good. For instance, back in 1980, the fact that Jimmy Carter was a terrible, awful president was by far the biggest issue of the election. Any suggestion that his opponent was a right-wing extremist was outweighed by the fact that Carter clearly had no idea what he was doing as commander-in-chief and people felt it was best he move on to an occupation like building houses, where he was less likely to cause major harm.
Many expect the 2012 election to play out similarly, as Obama has failed in ways that rival even Carter’s failures. Internationally, he’s hypocritically in a war in Libya, which he can’t coherently explain and which even his own lawyers think violates the War Powers Act. Domestically, well, it seems almost mean spirited to point out the facts there. In fact, the only place Obama hasn’t done worse than Carter is in being bullied by lagomorphs. So it would seem an easy task for whoever Obama’s opponent is to just say, “Look what Obama’s done! LOOK AT IT!” Then voters will conclude that they shouldn’t return Obama to a job that’s clearly above his pay grade.
This seems like simple analysis, but the voters of today aren’t the voters of 1980. Well, some are, but they’re a lot older and now know what the internet is. And everyone is in to ironically liking stuff, like bad pop songs and, perhaps, horrible presidents. Anyway, the point is that voter expectations of the president may be quite different now, and maybe whether or not a president is very good at his job may not be the major factor it used to be.