2012: Myths and Misconceptions

Understandably, 2012 is a topic of constant interest to conservatives. Conservatives who want to turn the country around will not do so in 2010, no matter how many seats they pick up. The GOP's chance to rid itself of Obama is 2012.

On slow news days, even the most insignificant story can become a big one if there's a 2012 angle. However, the glut of 2012 stories reveals how mythologized presidential politics has become. New themes mix with outdated methodology to produce political myths. It's time to clear up the confusion and take a look at the real story.

Myth: Barack Obama is toast. Barack Obama is guaranteed re-election.

While conservatives may wish the former and liberals hope the latter, neither is certain. History does tell us that since 1896, with one exception, every time a party has taken control of the White House they've held control of it for eight years.

But Obama's policies seem reminiscent of the exception, Jimmy Carter.

The truth here lies in how Americans vote. American University Professor Allan Lichtman's "keys to the White House" presidential election prediction system successfully predicted the winner of the popular vote for every election going back to 1860.

Lichtman offers 13 key conditions that favor the incumbent's re-election. If eight or more of these are true, the incumbent will win. If seven or less are true, the incumbent will lose. All but two keys focus on issues (such as whether the administration has had foreign policy success) or factors that lend to massive voter dissatisfaction (such as the incumbent party suffering significant losses in the House of Representatives, or the formation of a third party.)

You can argue the particulars, but Lichtman's basic point that voters make their decision based on performance is sound. If Republicans win in 2012, it will be because a series of things have gone wrong.

Reality: It's too early to say.

History teaches that Obama's naïve foreign policy and irresponsible management of the nation's finances portend ill. The question is how soon will that disaster come. The recession of 1937 didn't occur until the year after FDR won by a landslide. While the Gorelick wall played a key role in allowing 9/11, the attack on the World Trade Center didn't happen until eight months after President Clinton left power. Thus, a disastrous trajectory will not necessarily play into an election campaign.