or on the eve of the results of the Iowa caucuses (as being GMT+1 I’ll only know the results tomorrow). A Washington friend, citing a WaPo editoralist, is fretting on Facebook this morning about Obama’s gloomy numbers. My response: there is nothing new in this WaPo piece. We know it’s going to be a tough reelection fight for Obama, particularly as he will most certainly face Mitt Romney, the GOP’s only credible candidate (as whatever happens in Iowa there is a 98.5% certainty that Romney will be the nominee; the GOP may be crazy these days but it is not so crazy as to jump off a cliff with one of the other jokers in the current field; and I don’t think Romney’s Mormonism will be an electoral liability for him). But while the situation for Obama is not brilliant it is far from catastrophic. The latest RCP average of Obama’s job approval rating has him at 46.8% and with a -1.0 spread. If he’s at 48-49% on November 5th, he will likely win. If he’s at 50, then he wins. Period. Obama has a hill to climb but it’s not steep (cf. Nicolas Sarkozy). And the spread today on Obama vs. Romney is +1.6 in Obama’s favor (vs. a generic GOP candidate it’s only -0.5) The spread on “direction of the country” polls—right/wrong track—is a dismal -45.5, which would normally be a killer for an incumbent president seeking reelection. But a lot of it will depend on whom the voters place the ultimate responsibility. So far a majority of Americans still blame Bush more than Obama for the economic crisis. And then there’s the public’s assessment of Congress, whose job approval rating spread is a jaw-dropping -71.3. So numbers-wise Obama is not out of the woods but he’s not deep in the woods either.
It may be added that Obama has a couple of things going for him that previous incumbents who lost reelection—Ford, Carter, Bush 41—or pulled out of the race—LBJ—did not. First, he is running for reelection uncontested within his own party. The four aforementioned presidents all faced serious challenges within their respective parties and had to contest primaries, and in which they suffered setbacks. Secondly—and related to this—, Obama has kept his base, unlike the aforementioned losers, who were rejected by a portion of theirs. Afro-Americans have not deserted him, nor have Hispanics or the 18-29 age cohort. And importantly, he still has voters who identify as liberals. Lefties have been kvetching about Obama almost since Day One—and this includes legions of personal friends (and me too, though not from Day One)—but lefties are not a major electoral force and all but a negligible handful will vote for BHO in the end. If Blacks and the 18-29 cohort vote in the same proportion as they did in ’08, then Obama will head into the election in good shape base-wise. Conclusion: while one should not be Pollyannaish on Obama’s chances, one should not be Cassandra-ish either.
ADDENDUM: There is one scenario that could upend Romney’s march to the nomination. In mid-December I attended a panel discussion at IFRI on the US presidential election, mainly to hear Norman Ornstein and Larry Sabato, who both said that if the results of the January caucuses/primaries—in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida—were inconclusive or muddled—i.e. if Romney stumbles badly and/or if each is won by a different candidate—, this could tempt a first-tier GOP politician—e.g. Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels—to enter the race in February—during which there will be three weeks with no caucus or primary contests—and in time for the March 6th Super Tuesday and the onset of winner-take-all primaries beginning in April. They agreed that the scenario was not likely but was not to be ruled out either.
2nd ADDENDUM: Ornstein and Sabato also mentioned that Obama would significantly outraise and outspend his Republican rival. With incumbency goes the money advantage. That’s just the way it is, regardless of what it may mean in terms of the particular interests Obama may thus feel beholden to (that he already feels beholden to, in fact).
3rd ADDENDUM: So what happens if a third candidate enters the race as an independent, particularly a trillionaire like Bloomberg or Trump? Probably nothing. If past history is a guide it won’t matter or will be a wash. E.g. Ross Perot in ’92: according to the NYT exit poll of the time, had Perot not been in the race his vote would have split evenly between Bush and Clinton—and with part of it staying home—, and with a few Clinton states going to Bush but not nearly enough to change the outcome. John Anderson in ’80: irrelevant. And Nader in 2000: had it not been for the dodgy butterfly ballot in Palm Beach Co., FL—with the big Jews for Buchanan vote there—, Gore would have won FL and thus the country. And if one wants to go back to 1968 and George Wallace, all his candidacy did was deprive Nixon of a near landslide victory, instead of the relatively narrow one he had.