If President Barack Obama is to win, he is going to have to overcome a set of numbers that no incumbent President, or incumbent party, has ever managed to surmount.
The jobless rate has been stuck at just above 8 per cent for months; you have to go back to 1936 to find a President re-elected with a higher unemployment rate. And in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s case, it was a far better number than he had inherited. Plus, growth was booming....
The core question for many voters—“Are you generally satisfied with the country’s direction, or has the U.S. gone off on the wrong track”—gets a 32.7-60.7 negative answer, according to the RealClearPolitics average. Generally, an incumbent party needs to have at least a 35% positive response to this question to win the election, says the Gallup Organization.
The consumer confidence level is now about 60 per cent. No incumbent party has ever kept the White House with a number anything like that. (It was slightly higher, at 65 per cent, in 1980 when Carter lost in a landslide.)
Now, try this as a thought exercise. Forget who is running, what the latest gaffe of the day is, who is outraged and what latest insult to what group has been perpetrated by the candidate or his staff. Ignore whom you’re rooting for, and just look at those numbers with the ice-cold heart of a bean counter.
What you would conclude, I think, is that there is no way an incumbent President could get re-elected given these current numbers....
It’s often said that a re-election campaign is always about the incumbent; like many political observations, that’s partly, but not wholly, true. Even when the electorate is disposed to replace the President, it has to be satisfied that the challenger is up to the job. Mitt Romney has yet to meet that test.
The Obama campaign, however, can take very limited comfort from Romney’s discomfit. If the “fundamental” numbers continue to be as grim as they now are, the desire to change course will deepen. And the more that longing intensifies, the lower the bar Mitt Romney will have to clear.
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