At Yahoo, Jeff Greenfield, veteran purveyor of conventional wisdom writes, “Add it up: The prediction models look dismal for Obama. Can he still win?”
I’m a skeptic about the predictive power of these numbers for many reasons. For one thing, the “sample size,” which totals about twenty or so Presidential elections since most of these measurements were first made, is too small. For another, they work—unless they don’t. In 1968, strong economic figures were trumped by a divisive war and by social unrest. In 2000, every economic forecasting model predicted that Al Gore would win a comfortable or landslide plurality. They were “right” in the sense that he got half a million more votes than Bush; they were “wrong” in the fundamental outcome they offered.
So it’s with that skepticism in mind that I offer, not a prediction, but a flat pre-election assessment: If President Barack Obama is to win, he is going to have to overcome a set of numbers that no incumbent President, or incumbent party, has ever managed to surmount.
The jobless rate has been stuck at just above 8 per cent for months; you have to go back to 1936 to find a President re-elected with a higher unemployment rate. And in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s case, it was a far better number than he had inherited. Plus, growth was booming.
Today, real growth is at 1.5 per cent. In the economic forecasting models, this portends what even the liberal arts majors have been predicting: a very close election.
The core question for many voters—“Are you generally satisfied with the country’s direction, or has the U.S. gone off on the wrong track”—gets a 32.7-60.7 negative answer, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Generally, an incumbent party needs to have at least a 35% positive response to this question to win the election, says the Gallup Organization.
The consumer confidence level is now about 60 per cent. No incumbent party has ever kept the White House with a number anything like that. (It was slightly higher, at 65 per cent, in 1980 when Carter lost in a landslide.)
Greenfield pulls up at the end, and throws plenty of red meat at Yahoo’s broadly center-left audience by trashing Romney as a terrible candidate. But as J.T. Young notes at the American Spectator, even in the midst of the “prolonged pummeling” Romney has received from Obama, the Republican candidate “has not simply endured, he is even with the incumbent. Shouldn’t the incumbent Obama, who faced no primary and was able to save, focus, and control massively more resources, have opened up a lead? Has Obama taken his best shot, while Republicans are still waiting to throw theirs?” Young asks, “Has Obama Peaked?”
Never in U.S, history has a winning incumbent, in his initial reelection attempt, seen his popular vote percentage fall. However despite his spending and incumbency advantages, if current polls are correct Obama is unlikely to come close to reaching his 52.5% of the 2008 popular vote.
Second, in Obama’s 2008 victory, most neglected to notice his win was only an electoral vote landslide and against an opponent with numerous crippling disadvantages. McCain failed to unite Republicans, while carrying the burden of two wars and an economic downturn.
Even more unnoticed was Obama’s massive spending advantage. All told, McCain raised $350 million for his primary and general election campaigns, while Obama raised $745.7 million. And this huge advantage could be focused on close states — further increasing the spending disparity.
While Obama benefitted from a huge 2008 — and thus far in 2012 — spending advantage, it is disappearing now. Republican Super PACs have a 3-1 cash on hand advantage over the Democrats’. Romney also is closing the gap. In May, Romney outraised Obama $77 million to $60 million and in June, Republicans raised over $100 million.
Without his huge cash advantage and with the election just over three months away, there are a diminishing number of potentially positive variables for Obama. The Fed recently downgraded the economy’s projected performance and Congress’ stalemate eliminates the possibility for any great political victories. Abroad too, it is easier to see things getting worse — such as an economic collapse in Europe — than better.
The realization should be emerging that Obama was not really that strong in 2008, when he massively outspent a disadvantaged opponent. And he is even weaker now — despite an early and significant spending advantage — when he will be unable to financially overwhelm a stronger opponent. The questions Democrats must be asking is: Has Obama already peaked? And can he hold on just long enough?
And of course, in-between his bitter clingers and “typical white person” Kinsley-esque gaffes and
bimbo Rev. Wright/Bill Ayers eruptions, Obama was able, at times, to run in the general election as a more or less moderate until the very end, when he ran into Joe the Plumber, and his bankrupting coal companies statement went viral (no thanks to the in-the-tank San Francisco Chronicle, whom he handed the potentially campaign-ending quote to on a silver platter), but by then, it was too late for the McCain campaign to capitalize on Obama’s errors.
All of which is why, at Commentary, John Steele Gordon wonders if David Dinkins’ horrific term as mayor of New York is an indication of today’s voter apathy:
I think what I call the Dinkins effect is in operation. David Dinkins was the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York in 1989, having defeated three-term incumbent Ed Koch in the primary. His Republican opponent was Rudy Giuliani. The polls all showed Dinkins well ahead, but he won the race only narrowly. In 1993, there was the same match-up. The polls all showed Dinkins (who had a lousy record as mayor) as narrowly ahead. Giuliani won in a walk. The reason the polls were so wrong, I think, was because Dinkins is black and some people were simply unwilling to say, even to a pollster, they were voting against the black guy. Racism is nearly extinct in this country, but the fear of being thought racist is pervasive, and the willingness of some people on the left to play the race card apparent.
Could that be why President Obama has high ratings in polls asking about his “likeability”? My dislike of his politics probably clouds my judgment somewhat, but I don’t find him likeable at all. He’s arrogant, often mean-spirited, sometimes downright nasty. He avoids taking responsibility for failure but takes all the credit for success. He doesn’t have much of a sense of humor that I can see. He’s, well, chilly. I don’t like Bill Clinton’s politics much either, but I’m sure I’d have a great time having dinner with him some night. He may be left-of-center and more than a bit of a scoundrel in his personal life, but likeable he most certainly is. Obama, simply, is not.
Also, of course, a lot of people might be unwilling to admit they think they were sold a bills of goods in 2008 by a political flim-flam man. No one likes to admit they were cheated. So they say they’re voting for Obama but then won’t.
Oh, and speaking of Clinton, in August of 2008, with Obama riding high on the way to the Democratic convention, Jonah Goldberg wrote of the “Nightmare on Dem Street:”
For months now people have been saying to me, “Do you really think they’re gone?” “Is it finally over?” “Is the coast clear?”
The questions have been in response to Barack Obama’s supposedly yeoman service in putting an end to the Clintons in public life.
My response to those who believe our long national nightmare is over has always been: “Have you seen no monster movies?”
Freddy Krueger always comes back. Jason re-emerges from the pond one more time. Dracula had so many comebacks; nobody was surprised to see him hanging with Abbott and Costello.
Of course the Clintons will be back.
And not a moment too soon, from Obama’s POV, as he wipes the flop-sweat off his brow. Brit Hume tells his viewers that “The convention role being given Bill Clinton is proof that President Obama is in deep trouble and he and his political handlers know it:”
Polls continue to show the race tied or Mr. Obama slightly ahead. But other surveys point distinctly in another direction. One out today from the Hill newspaper gives Mitt Romney an edge with voters on three key qualities: sharing their values, being a stronger leader and being more honest and trustworthy. What’s more, 93 percent of voters in this poll said policies and competence were more important than likablity, that’s an area, of course, where Mr. Obama has enjoyed a large advantage.Add to that the Rasmussen survey in which voters by 62 percent to 30 said economic growth was more important to them than economic fairness. Fairness, of course, is a major theme of Mr. Obama and his party. With his attacks on Mitt Romney’s business record and his repeated and unsubtle appeals to elements of his party’s base, Mr. Obama is clearly shooting for a big Democratic turnout in November.
But Gallup reports that the number of Democrats who say they are more enthusiastic about voting this year is at 39 percent, down from 61 percent four years ago. 51 percent of Republicans, meanwhile, said they are more enthusiastic this year, that is up from 35 per cent in 2008.When you put all this together with the continuing bad news on the economy, you know why Mr. Obama is suddenly reaching out to Bill Clinton.
This is a distress call.
Ask George H.W. Bush how well his own distress call to his predecessor paid off in 1992 — and while Papa Bush took a mild swipe at Reagan in ’87 with his first draft of Compassionate Conservatism (“Kinder and gentler than what?” Reagan was quoted as asking at the time), he and his supporters never openly called his party’s predecessor in the White House — and his wife and/or her surrogates — racists.
Of course, perhaps the DNC is simply trying to be all things to all people: “DNC Counterprograms Itself: Bill Clinton Will Give Keynote Speech Explaining What He Did In the 90s To Make The Economy Cook, And Then Elizabeth Warren Will Explain Why We Need To Do The Exact Opposite.”
Update: “CBS MarketWatch Writer: It’s a Depression, Not a Recession,” Ace writes. “And therefore — he doesn’t say this; this is the implication of it, as I read it — Barack Obama didn’t ‘save’ us from any damn thing.” Hey, Time magazine was right in 2008; he really is the second coming of FDR!