Looking Ahead to 2012

by Samuel R. Staley

New poll results showing disapproval of the way President Obama is handling the debt crisis might give his critics a boost, but they’re unlikely to change the dynamics of the presidential election one year from now. Right now, it looks like we are looking at another four years of Barack Obama as president. That might be hard to stomach, but if we look objectively at the factors that drive presidential election results, President Obama is not just sitting on the bubble. He’ll likely win in 2012, although not by a landslide.

I decided to score the president using Allan Lichtman’s criteria laid out in his book The Keys to the White House and nicely summarized by Dayton Daily News political columnist Martin Gottlieb.

My scoring gives President Obama the following “keys” identified by Lichtman working in his favor:

— No serious contest for the nomination within his party
— He’s the sitting president
— The economy is not in recession (sluggish, yes, but not in recession)
— He’s effected major policy change (Obamacare, stimulus, financial bailouts, Iraq exit)
— No sustained social unrest
— He’s untainted by major scandal
— He’s not experienced a major military or foreign policy failure
— He is a charismatic leader (at least among his base)

The following factors will work against him (as of August 31, 2011)

— The U.S. House will be in Republican hands
— The Tea Party is emerging as a major, independent political force
— Income growth is lower than the previous two presidential terms
— He has not achieved a major foreign policy success (winning the Peace Prize doesn’t count)

One key still up in the air is whether Obama will be challenged by a charismatic candidate in the general election.

Litchman’s research says that six of these factors have to work against the incumbent president for him to lose. Right now, only four work against him and one is up the in the air.

For Obama to lose in November 2012, using Lichtman-based handicapping, Republicans will need to turn at least two of the criteria working in his favor against him. The most likely, in my opinion, would be for the economy to take a serious downturn and for the Republicans to elect a charismatic opponent who can galvanize the independent Tea Party. At least these keys can be turned based on what we know now and a strategy can be built on them.

Of course, Republicans can also hope for a major scandal, or a major foreign policy failure, but these factors are largely random occurrences.

Regardless, the major forces leading to a second Obama term are strong and still in play.