Six Questions that May Decide the Presidential Contest of 2012
According to recent polls, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are beating President Barack Obama. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul are all within the margin of error. Yet the potential candidates aren’t ready to measure drapes for the Oval Office.
Said Huckabee recently, “I don’t think that Barack Obama is going to be easy to beat.” Huckabee’s caution is appropriate. Running a losing presidential campaign isn’t a way to enhance your influence. In addition, a Huckabee loss in the general election would be used against any conservative Evangelical running for the White House in the future.
With such high stakes, betting on early polls is folly. Liberal analyst Nate Silver hit the nail on the head, saying the “idea of trying to apply a ‘likely voter’ model 2.5 years in advance of an election is dubious.” There is a more scientific way to have a picture of what America’s electoral landscape looks like for 2012. Professor Allan Lichtman’s 13 Keys method has predicted the popular vote outcome of every election since 1984, and the keys retroactively explain the popular vote in every election since 1856.
Lichtman’s keys measure the mood of the nation. Each statement, if true, favors the reelection of the incumbent. If eight or more statements are true, the incumbent party will be reelected. If this is not the case, the incumbent will lose. How do these indicators look right now?
Four of these key statements will be true or will likely be true, three of these statements are false or will likely be false, and the remaining six are toss-ups.
True or Likely True
- Obama will be the incumbent.
- He will not likely face a serious opponent in the Democratic Primary.
- He’ll still have his charisma.
- He has effected a major change in policy.
This fourth key deserves an asterisk after the passage of ObamaCare. Lichtman had programs such as Social Security and Medicare in mind when coming up with the policy change key, and both of these bills enjoyed vast bipartisan support in Congress and with the general public.
It is unprecedented for the president and Congress to effect a major policy change on something so personal and on something that Americans don’t want, so a historical model that assumes that major policy changes are passed as a result of wide, public support may need tweaking.
False or Leans False
- Party mandate
- Long-term economy
- Foreign policy success
These keys look to favor the GOP. For the party mandate key to be false, Republicans must pick up a modest 26 House seats, which would reduce the number of Democrats in the House below the 233 they held after the 2006 midterms.
In order for the long-term economy key to favor the president, “real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.” Given the strong growth enjoyed during most of the Bush years and the weakness of the economy so far, this seems quite unlikely to occur.
The foreign policy success key requires that a major foreign policy success occur during the president’s term. While an otherwise inept president may always pull a Camp David Accords out of his hat, this administration has been a foreign policy basket case, creating tension with our allies in places like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel.
If these seven keys hold, then six questions will decide how 2012 will play out. These final six keys are stated negatively by Lichtman, so a yes to these questions makes the key false. If three or more of these keys go against President Obama, he may very well lose in 2012.
1) Will the economy be in recession?
Over the long haul, Obama’s economic policies are bad for the country, but will America be heading into another recession during the election year? Certainly, the president’s policies are job killers, particularly Obama’s plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire. However, as the recession of 1937 proved, the results of bad economic policies don’t always show before the election.
2) Will there be a third party?
While many conservatives feel any third party is bad news for Republicans, this isn’t necessarily so. If the Republicans nominate a conservative, a moderate or libertarian third party could draw away voters who couldn’t bring themselves to support a conservative, but who also couldn’t stand to reelect President Obama. This happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980, with the third party candidacy of John B. Anderson drawing votes from Carter.
That said, a third party candidate will have to be a self-financier in the Ross Perot model or a media superstar. The has-been politicians touted by the press, as well as the unknowns that win most third party nominations, won’t cut it.
3) Will there be sustained social unrest?
4) Will the administration be tainted by major scandal?
These questions are wild cards that can’t be predicted. The warning signs for events like Watergate and the riots of the 1960s are only realized through hindsight.
5) Will there be a major foreign policy failure?
This is similar to the foreign policy success key. While Obama’s foreign policy blunders will have a price, only time will tell whether his administration will be on duty to see it. The road to 9/11 began in 1993 with President Clinton’s failure to respond appropriately to the World Trade Center bombing, but the result of Clinton’s policies didn’t come to fruition during his administration. The question for the next two years is whether Obama will have Clinton’s luck or Carter’s luck. (Carter's presidency was doomed by the Iran hostage crisis.)
6) Will the GOP nominate a national hero or charismatic figure for president?
Other than gaining enough House seats this fall, this key may offer the most opportunity for Republicans to oust Obama. People like heroic leaders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant as well as confident and likable charismatic leaders. National heroes are in short supply, however.
General David Petraeus is often discussed as a possible heroic candidate, but in addition to no one knowing what his political beliefs are, Petraeus doesn’t have the stature of Grant or Eisenhower because a far smaller percentage of the American public has served under him.
In terms of charisma, Huckabee and Palin could take this key for the GOP. Like it or not, charismatic people get more bang for their buck. As Obama will likely raise another billion dollars in 2012, conservatives can use as much bang as they can get.
In the end, 2012 remains a crap shoot that will depend mostly on how much damage the president’s policies do and how soon the damage becomes apparent.