Reëlection Watch: May 2011
This is the first in a series of articles we will publish every month between now and the general election. As we get closer to November, 2012, the frequency will almost certainly increase.
Each time, we’ll take a look at the various factors that typically influence election outcomes, and compare them to the previous month. Since this is the first in the series, I’m taking a bit of a finger-in-the-air approach.
Let’s look at each factor individually.
The Washington Post/Pew Research polls are looking very good for Obama. His overall approve/disapprove numbers improved by five points among Democrats, and ten points among the critical-for-reëlection independents. Unsurprisingly, his Republican numbers are unchanged, but that’s not likely to impact his reëlection prospects. On terrorism, Obama’s numbers improved even among Republicans. On the economy, however, he has dropped six points among independents.
The latest Right Track/Wrong Track polls (taken in April), show a 41-point negative spread, which is strongly indicative of a “throw the bums out” sentiment. The numbers are far worse than they were in the run-up to the 2010 elections, or those shortly after the new Congress was sworn in. This makes it hard to tell, by itself, the degree to which these numbers apply to the President versus Congress. Considering the overall approval/disapproval numbers, however (even assuming that the “bin Laden bump” isn’t persistent), one can credibly conclude that it’s more a reflection of Congress than of the President.
The latest CNN/Opinion Research polls are interesting. Compared to Bill Clinton at the same point in his first term, Obama is polling five points better (+5 in “definitely vote for,” –5 in “probably not vote for,” and about the same in “probably vote for” and “definitely not vote for”). This isn’t a “bin Laden bump,” either; the numbers are essentially unchanged from January. On the other hand, Independents have a nine-point spread against Obama, and Moderates are evenly split. In the cross-tabs, a bare majority of Independents (50%) and a solid supermajority of Moderates (61%) approve of Obama’s performance. But the numbers reverse when looking at how they feel about Obama’s handling of the economy—61% of Independents and 50% of Moderates disapprove.
The overall picture is very mixed. It’s better than Clinton was at this stage in his first term, and other comparisons to Reagan’s first term show Obama tracking remarkably closely to Reagan.
Mike Huckabee did some damage to his reputation by comparing the national debt to the Holocaust. The damage isn’t huge in the short term, but his refusal to apologize or retract the statement increases the likelihood that this move will bite him in the future.
Michele Bachmann made a similar statement before Huckabee did, but it’s so much in line with her existing public image that it’s not likely to change her prospects; it merely reinforces the image she already has…at least with those who are aware of her existence.
Donald Trump continues to act more like a reality show star than a candidate for President. The longer he does this, the less likely he will appear at the top of the ticket for the Republican Party in 2012.
With Trump’s prospects fading fast, the most credible candidate today remains Mitt Romney.
From the standpoint of the competition, polls suggest that the election is Obama’s to lose, a situation that hasn’t really changed in months.
The economy is a mixed bag right now.
On the positive side, unemployment recently shrunk to its lowest level since July, 2009. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is at its highest level since the summer of 2008, and has been rising at a rapid clip pretty consistently for the past two years.
On the other hand, the real estate market remains soft. Analysts have suggested that there is a four-year inventory backlog, which indicates a long wait for improvement in the housing market.
Furthermore, oil prices have risen significantly of late. West Texas Intermediate crude is trading above $110 per barrel, a 30% rise since February, and more than 2½ times the price of the trough during the 2008 recession. Gas prices at the pump are nearly four dollars nationwide, within a hairs-breadth of the 2008 peak just prior to the recession. Those prices, particularly accompanied by a rise as rapid as this one, significantly increase the chances of another recession. Unemployment has most recently been on the rise again, suggesting that we may be seeing the early signs of exactly such a scenario. If we have another recession now, the effects are likely to linger into next year’s election season. Voters are not kind to sitting Presidents during recessions, or shortly after they end.
This one is hard to peg, with such conflicting data. I’m going to call the economic impact as mixed for now.
The release of Obama’s “long form” birth certificate eliminated the last barely-credible vestige of birtherism. Whether intentional or not, the decision to release it at the same time as authorizing a military operation to kill Osama bin Laden does a fine job of highlighting the triviality of the birther claims.
And, of course, being the man in the White House at the time that bin Laden was found and killed gives a short-term boost regardless of other factors. It also puts to rest many of the memes that Obama is soft on terrorism, which should have more lasting effects. In essence, it all but eliminates one potential talking point for the Republican candidate on next year’s ballot.
Here’s how things look overall.
Things are looking pretty good for Obama’s reëlection prospects right now. The biggest danger currently within view is another recession. If that happens, he could lose even to Sarah Palin. But, barring another recession, his reëlection looks today to be assured.
We’ll be back next month to see how well this situation has held out.
- Will Obama Win Now? (bigthink.com)
- Obama Reëlection 71 Percent Likely After Bin Laden Kill, Says Irish Bookmaker (huffingtonpost.com)
- Leader of the ‘Piac (logarchism.com)
- Not so fast! Obama still hasn’t shaken the Carter syndrome (salon.com)
- Killing Bin Laden: A Pivotal Political Moment for Obama (swampland.time.com)
- Obama gets bump in polls after Osama Bin Laden killed (rightpundits.com)
- Obama Approval Numbers After Bin Laden Kill (thedailybeast.com)
- Bin Laden Death Should Have Only Modest Influence on 2012 Election (elections.firedoglake.com)
- Steele: Bin Laden slaying shouldn’t scare off 2012 GOP hopefuls (thehill.com)
- How Republicans praise Obama for getting bin Laden (dailykos.com)
- Dead-Cat Bounce Continues (thepage.time.com)
- Bin Laden Kill Bumps Obamas Numbers (lezgetreal.com)
- Obama Approval Jumps to Two Year High (politicalwire.com)
- Obama’s popularity in state sinks in pre-bin Laden poll (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Measuring The Bin Laden Bounce, If There Is One (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Chris Weigant: Obama Poll Watch: April 2011 (huffingtonpost.com)