14 November 2010

Why Obama Will Probably Win in 2012

So it seems like the stage is set for the 2012 Presidential race, with the midterms behind us. The players are in position and starting their pursuit openly, now that they can abandon the quiet shufflings to which they are restricted in the first half of the Presidential term. Romney, Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich are widely acknowledged to be in front, with a big host of others leading up the rear like Christie and Pawlenty and Pence. But I think that no matter who is nominated, that person will probably lose against Obama in 2012.

Let's open with some clear caveats: It's too early to say for certain. A lot can happen in two years, including many plot-shifting events. There could be a terrorist attack. There could be a natural disaster. And so on. These things could dramatically alter the possibilities. Plus I could easily just be plain wrong about the trends in the electorate, since there's plenty of time for them to reverse. Or maybe someone is holding Obama's Kenyan birth certificate secretly in reserve. So everything here should be taken with a grain of salt.

But, with all of that said, I think there are a number of reasons that strongly favor Obama going into the election. In order of least important to most important, they are below.

No More Party of No

The Republicans are once more in partial power, and so have enough muscle to push forward things for actual votes. During the past two years, they have adopted two tactics: stonewalling and fake proposals. With stonewalling, they have been famously the "Party of No," refusing to engage in a real way on the issues. Major votes passed with almost no GOP support despite frequent attempts at outreach because the Republicans didn't want to be seen as participating: they wanted to hold the line, as it were - even when it meant Obamacare's certain legacy. And in the meantime they put up such fake ideas as the "Pledge to America", without advancing serious proposals for governance.

But those days are over now. If they were to put out a new Pledge, people would rightly ask them why they didn't schedule it for a vote in the House (and also why it wasn't an actual legislative proposal with numbers). Now they have to do the work and propose spending cuts, and that is highly unpopular (or else Democrats would have done it). This will be a dirty, damaging, and relatively novel thing for a long of Republicans in the House, and it will sometimes make them look bad. There's a chance that they will launch some major legislation that is viable, but even that will give a solid target to hit for the Democrats. No more backseat-driving.

Tear-down Versus Presidential

The Republican field is huge. It includes some serious candidates and some absurd ones. Some people will drop out right away as it becomes clear there's no money or love for them. But others will try to stick it out, and they will drag others down. It's going to be nasty and uncivil at times, and will often be undignified. People's skeletons will be uncovered and hasty remarks will go out. Even worse for them, the candidates will have to define themselves in opposition to each other, and struggle to keep to the center while still convincing their base that they're conservative. And the voters have to decide how electable they want their candidate. Do they want a Palin, who is beloved by the base but hated by huge sections of the center? Or do they want a Romney, viewed warily by party loyalists but acceptable to independents?

Meanwhile, Obama will continue to look more dignified and in control, which is reassuring. It's easy to be presidential while you're President. Plus, he gets to conserve his resources and organize a strategy. It's a serious advantage to be an incumbent, and the White House has an amazing home court advantage.


When the economy does badly, the incumbency does badly. This is an iron rule of politics, virtually unbreakable. It is why the Democrats were going to do badly in the midterms no matter what went on. Maybe you think the President has made it better (as I do) or that he's made it worse or that he hasn't mattered much at all, but the fact is that in two years things will be improved. And I think they will probably be improved enough to change the prevailing winds.

This is the most uncertain of these factors, because things might still be going badly. But with jobs trending the right way and two full years to go, this seems likely to be recovered enough to swing things back around at least partially.

If you look at stats from 2010 vs 2008, you find out one big fact: the reason Democrats lost was because their voters didn't go to the polls. Instead, a much greater proportion of voters were (to put it plainly) white seniors, who tend to vote Republican in large numbers.  There was a full fourteen-point swing, as young voters went from 18% to 11% and seniors went from 16% to 23%.

It's all in the exit polls.  Young people, blacks, hispanics, the poor, the middle class, the uneducated, the highly educated, liberals, moderates, and gays all broke Democratic - and most of them heavily so, by margins of the high double digits.  The Democrats lost so badly because just too few of these sorts of people voted, compared to the other segments of the population.

2012 is a Presidential election year again, and many more people will vote. And a lot of these people will vote for Obama.

So mark my words: barring any major disasters, Obama will win again in 2012.

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