Friday, August 14, 2009

The First Glimpse at 2012: Obama's Reelection Chances

President Obama has had a tough couple of months. But by no means are things hopeless for him. And it’s important to remember that whatever his trouble, his approval rating hasn’t fallen below 50%. Today, I want to consider Obama’s reelection prospects as they currently stand.

I have said before that I think Obama will win or lose on the economy. There is still a lot of truth to that. If the economy is doing poorly come 2012, he will lose. If the economy is booming in 2012 a la 1984, then he will cruise to an easy victory.

The uncertainty comes in a middle scenario. What happens if the economy is demonstrably better than it is now, but still struggling in 2012? Obama could win or lose in that case.

There are a number of factors that would determine if he won. The first would be the Republican candidate. If it’s someone like Sarah Palin whom voters perceive to utterly lack gravitas then I think Obama will still win. If it’s someone like Mitt Romney who has a coherent economic message, and is perceived as being capable of being President, then Obama could lose.

The second factor is Obama’s record of achievement on other issues. I think most prominent here will be healthcare. If Obama is able to get a meaningful bill through that Americans think has lowered premiums for middle class families and expanded access, he will be able to run on a record of reform.

If Obama botches healthcare reform though, it could be fatal. Now many of you might be thinking that Bill Clinton was able to survive even though health reform failed in 1994. But remember the other circumstances. The Republicans shut down government in 1995, and were seen as extreme. Also, they ran a lackluster candidate against him in Bob Dole. Obama can’t count on either of these things happening.

Still things are looking promising for his reelection. The economy is starting to rebound, however slowly. If he can regain his momentum on healthcare—which I think he can—he will be well positioned for next year’s midterm elections, and ultimately for 2012. Any reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

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