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Why Obama Can't Lose in 2012
NOTE: This hub was originally written in the summer of 2011. I have since done some new number crunching and decided to add an update. It will be at the bottom of this hub and deal with the chances of Obama compared to the last two incumbents to be voted out of office. A number of the facts cited in this article have changed and continued to develop. I added a second update to reflect the situation a of July 2012.
The media covers every Presidential Election like a horserace and part of the game for them is to manufacture the idea that the race is going to be a photo finish even when it is obvious what the outcome will be from the start. That is why even as the Republican primary looks more and more like a freak show every day they still beat the drum over how difficult it will be for Obama to get re-elected. Most Americans miss the fact that elections are childishly easy to predict when one makes a simple analysis of key factors. Political scientists have been able to predict the outcome of every two party race since the civil war using criteria that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual candidates or any of the issues. What follows is an analysis that shows that Barack Obama’s chances of losing the next election are almost non-existent.
IN THE REPUBLICANS FAVOR
1. High Unemployment: You hear the media say over and over again how much this matters but the truth is it doesn’t. In November of 1980 unemployment was 7.9% and Jimmy Carter lost. In November of 1984 unemployment was 7.4% and Ronald Reagan won by a landslide. In November of 1992 unemployment was 7.4% and George H. W. Bush lost. Three incumbents with almost identical unemployment and different results. The point is that the factor was not how high unemployment was, but how high it was a year or two before the election. In Carter and Bush’s case unemployment was much lower a year before the election. In Reagan’s case it was much higher. The current unemployment rate as of June of 2011 is 9.1%. It is estimated that by November of next year unemployment will be around 8.5% or lower. This is not as big a growth as Reagan was able to get but it isn’t a loss like Bush and Carter either.
2. Approval Ratings: This is another dubious claim about how Obama is going to lose. Obama’s approval ratings hover about even most of the time. His lowest approval rating while in office has been 41%. His highest has been 69%. His highest disapproval has been 52%. This isn’t exactly an abysmal approval record. The last president to not have their approval rating drop below 41% was JFK and he was assassinated three years into his term. Also, even Clinton and Reagan had higher disapproval ratings their first four years in office and both were re-elected. It seems nobody is thrilled with Obama, but with the exception of the Tea Party and Republican faithful nobody is terribly upset with him either. By contrast congress has an 18% approval rating which should tell you something.
IN OBAMA’s FAVOR
1. National Security: While he may seem vulnerable on the economy one place he isn’t is on national security. Republicans can’t appeal to the voters who think that Obama is too much of a hawk because they have a base full of hawks. Their only option is to try to appear tougher than he is which will be pretty hard since he got Bin Laden and hasn’t wavered much on the foreign policies of the Bush administration.
2. Weak GOP line-up: It says something when the frontrunner for the nomination is probably the third best candidate from last time. Mitt Romney has no charisma and when you look at Pawlenty, Cain, Gingrich and Huntsman you have some of the most boring candidates you could imagine. The one current candidate who you can’t take your eyes off of and doesn’t put you to sleep is Michelle Bachman but part of the reason that she is so compelling is because of the crazy stuff that comes out of her mouth and she and Ron Paul would be the least electable in the general election for the same reasons they are the two most interesting in the primary. Incumbent presidents who have lost in recent history, particularly Carter and Bush Sr., had opponents who oozed charisma. There is a reason Ronald Reagan was a movie star and Bill Clinton banged all those chicks behind Hillary’s back and they are the same factors that got them elected. Reagan had no problem from Walter Mondale , Bill Clinton rolled right through Bob Dole and John Kerry couldn’t seem anything but out of touch when he campaigned against George W. Bush. Obama would beat any of the Republican hopefuls according to polls and that is before they even get the chance to debate or campaign.
3. No third party candidate: There are other reasons that Carter and Bush Sr. both lost re-election. Both of them had to contend with a third party candidate. Carter won his first term by beating Gerald Ford by less than 2 million votes. When he ran for the second time he lost to Reagan by a little over 8 million votes. If he had been able to get the nearly 6 million votes that John B. Anderson took as a third party candidate things would have been a lot closer. Another reason Reagan was able to win was because he energized the youth vote that made the difference. (sound like anybody else we know?) Bush had it even worse. He lost to Bill Clinton by about 5 million votes but Ross Perot took almost 20 million votes away. Most political scientists think that without Perot the race would have favored Bush over Clinton. By contrast, Obama beat McCain by just under 10 million votes and this was a much larger number of voters than Carter, Reagan, Bush sr., Clinton or Bush Jr. got over their opponents for their first terms. This means to win the popular vote the Republicans will have to convince 10 million people to vote for them or hope they stay home or vote for Nader instead. When you consider that Nader got less than a million votes last time that seems like a tall order. But presidential elections aren’t decided by popular vote so that moves us onto our next point.
The Electoral College
In the last election Barack Obama won 24 states and the District of Columbia by more than 5% of the vote and these would give him 285 electoral votes. McCain won 20 states by more than 5% of the vote and these would give the Republican nominee 167 electoral votes. That leaves us with six states that there was less than five percent difference in the vote and those states are Ohio (4.58% Obama), Florida (2.81% Obama), Indiana (1.03% Obama), Missouri (0.13% McCain), North Carolina (0.33% Obama) and Montana (2.25% McCain) and they have a total of 86 electoral votes in the next election.
Let’s be generous. Let’s say the Republican nominee wins Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Carolina. That gives them 206 electoral votes to Obama’s 285. Now if the GOP nominee wants to get even closer their best chance to do it is to win Florida and Ohio but neither one will come easy. Obama will almost certainly have more money to spend and he won’t have to spend any of it trying to win red states because he already has the advantage. He will be able to spend most of it here on Florida and Ohio. Let’s say the Republican nominee gets lucky and wins Florida. Now they have 235 votes to Obama’s 285.
But Ohio went for Obama by almost five percent last time and that is tough enough to deal with since Ohio went for Bush in 2004 even though it was a much closer race there. Add to that the fact that Ohio’s Republican Governor, John Kasich , has a 30 percent approval rating and could be facing a recall, plus a referendum of his controversial union busting bill in 2012, then you see that a Republican has their hands full trying to win Ohio. But let’s be generous again. Miracles happen, so let’s give the Republicans Ohio. Now our Republican nominee has 253 votes and Obama has 285 votes. So even if the Republicans win all six key swing states next election, guess what, they still lose! And if you take the chance of the winning each state at 50/50 the chance of either Obama or the Republican winning all six is 0.78125%
But maybe you think that they could win all six states. Fine, we’ll go with it. Now in order to win, and this is after having to run expensive campaigns in all those swing states, the Republicans have to get another 17 electoral votes and they need to go to blue states to do it.
How about if Romney is your guy? He was governor of Massachusetts and if he wins that state you can add 11 more votes. Except that Massachusetts went to Obama by over 25%. What if Bachman wins the nomination? She can deliver Minnesota and its 10 votes right? Minnesota hasn’t gone Republican since Nixon in 1972, so good luck with that one.
How about Michigan (16.44%), Pennsylvania (10.31%), New Hampshire (9.61%) or Nevada (12.49%)? Maybe the Republicans have a chance in Colorado (8.5%) or Virginia (6.30%).
The idea that the GOP is going to win Michigan or Pennsylvania is just a pipe dream. While both states have lost a lot of jobs they certainly don’t think the Republicans will get them back. Both states are reliably blue. The Republicans have an outside chance of taking Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and New Hampshire but the thing is that this is after we have given them a pass on winning all six “purple states” from last election and they only have a less than 1% chance of even pulling that off. The Republicans could get the votes if they won Virginia and any of the other states or lost Virginia and won all three of the others. This makes the chances of you seeing a Republican in the White House in 2013 astronomically improbable.
So if you lean left the next time you hear someone talking about how Obama’s days are numbered you can just let it roll off your back. If you lean right and you still believe Obama is going to get booted next election you better buy a lottery ticket. You must be feeling lucky.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2011
A lot of this hub had assumed that Obama would win all the states that he won by over ten percent of the vote in 2008. It was pointed out to me that this was not true of Carter and George H. W. Bush. I insisted that they both had a third party candidate and this made all the difference but people keep objecting. So here are the numbers.
Carter won 9 states plus DC with more than ten percent of the vote. This is much less than the 17 plus DC that Obama won. Of those 9 states, Carter won 6 of them when he ran for re-election and lost all of the others. of the three he lost, two were incredibly close, by less then 1% of the vote. Anderson received over 2% of the vote in both of these states, more than enough to swing it to Reagan. In the third case, Massachusetts, Anderson received 12% of the vote, more than enough to swing it to Reagan. Carter also had a lot less support from the Democratic party than Obama has, and was running against a stronger opponent than Obama will.
George Bush won 26 states with over ten percent of the vote his first time. Of those 26, he won 14 of them. Of the 12 he lost Ross Perot got between 10-30 percent of the vote. That was more than enough to swing the vote to Clinton.
What we learn from this, even with a third party running, an incumbent can still win more than half of the states that they got more than 10% over their opponent the first time. Without an alternative, Obama will likely win all of them because all these states have voted Democrat in the last three elections at least. giving him 242 electoral votes. If we give the Republicans every single state they won last time, regardless of by what margin, they only get 179. This means all Obama has to do is win between one and five of the 11 states left (all of which he won last time) and he wins. This makes him the heavy favorite. Can he be defeated? It is possible, but not very likely.
UPDATE JULY 2012
There are a number of things that are different currently than what is portrayed in this article. The most significant is that Romney will have more money in the election thanks to the Super PACs. This gives him a much better chance than he would have without the Super PACs. However, the basic premise of this article still holds true in terms of the electoral map, and the other factors mentioned. My estimate of the unemployment rate at the time of the election, was higher than the unemployment rate we currently have, so this point still stands, as well as some others. It would be hard for Romney to win this election with the way the map is right now. Nearly everything would have to go in his favor.