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Thursday, September 29, 2011

2012: A STARTING POINT

Politics harbors much "conventional wisdom" and a small sample contains variations of the thought that " fourteen months (more or less) is a lifetime in presidential politics".  This is especially true if the fourteen months occur just prior to the first votes being counted.  However, in spite of the "anything can happen" truth during the period in question, outcomes are framed within a context of a factual starting point; not a fixed point but a moving  trend. 

The Gallup Poll has recently (9-22) found that 44% of Democrats are less enthusiastic about voting in the 2012 presidential election than in previous presidential elections.  This enthusiasm plunge, from a figure of just 15% in 2008, which evokes images of Mexican cliff divers, is made more stark by the flip side of the poll that showed 58% of Republican voters are more enthusiastic about voting in the next presidential election than the previous (2008) event.

One can hardly blame the Democrats for their funk. The possible reasons for their “malaise” are numerous and make the context of the evolving campaign more clear.  President Obama’s job approval is down to 39% with 51% disapproval. Approval amongst core groups is also in decline.  Approval among Jewish voters, small in number but concentrated in important electoral college states, is down from 83% in 2009 to just 54% currently.  The Gallup measure of “economic confidence” is currently minus 52 out of a possible positive 100.  The more general “state of the nation” index is just positive, 11% and negative 88%.  In spite of two and a half years of “Bush did it” by Obama and Democrat politicians and media sympathizers, a majority (53%) now blame Obama for the state of the U.S. economy with 56% saying Obama is the same or worse than Bush.  Among the all important Independent voters, 67% make the same judgment. 

As the seemingly endless supply of Democratic “strategists” populating cable talk shows reach for their Prozac, it just gets worse.  A September 22 Gallup poll of registered voters finds that while 54% of those polled would “definitely or might consider” voting for Obama in 2012, 45% would “definitely not” consider voting for him.  At the same time 62% said they would “definitely or consider” voting for Mitt Romney with only 35% in the negative category.  Rick Perry comes in virtually tied with Obama at 53% for and 44% against.  This is a dangerous statistic for Obama since neither Romney or Perry is the Republican candidate as yet and being tied or behind both of the top two possible candidates of the opposing party is a terrible place to be so early in the campaign.

Poll numbers from vital “swing states, Ohio and Pennsylvania are equally threatening.  A recent Quinnipac University poll finds that in Ohio 51% of voters specifically believe that Obama “doesn’t deserve reelection” including 53% of Independents.  In Pennsylvania the numbers are 51% to 44% against reelection with Independents registering 49% to 44% against.

In the wider context of issues of some importance to the voting public, immigration continues to simmer in the background as shown by Rick Perry’s struggle to define and then redefine his opposition to a border fence and support for tuition breaks for illegal immigrant students.  Obama and the Democrats continue to avoid the issue but are solidly in the liberalized enforcement camp opposed by a majority of Americans.  A federal judge in Alabama recently upheld most of the provisions of a tough Alabama law dealing with illegal immigrants which the Obama Justice Department will almost certainly appeal, thus reemphasizing it as a campaign issue.

The Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”) has also regained prominence as an election issue.  Federal District Courts and Circuit Courts of Appeal have issued contradictory opinions regarding the constitutionality of the most import part of the law which requires all citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty.  The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to decide the case without further appeals to the Circuit Courts.  This is the Obama Administration’s signature legislative achievement to which he devoted the first eighteen months of his time in office.  It will now be a high visibility issue in the presidential campaign and with no less than 56 % of the population wanting the Congress to repeal it, even mentioning it, much less campaigning on it as a success will be difficult.

Nothing else seems to be going well for Obama.  Federal Reserve policy and the financial crisis in the European Union keep the stock market gyrating with enormous swings almost on a weekly basis which emphasize the uncertainty and instability of the economy.  The “promise” of the “Arab Spring” with its overthrow of dictators has so far produced political instability in each nation, the possibility of Islamist governments and a deterioration of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  Obama has managed to alienate himself from the Israeli government and will shortly alienate himself from Arab governments with a U.S. veto of Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council.  Violence is on the upswing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq even as U.S. forces begin withdrawal.

Certainly not all of this is in the control of Obama or any other President but taken all together, along with U.S. unemployment seemingly fixed at 9%, the impression more and more voters are getting is one of a President out of his depth and an Administration in disarray. 

What does all this mean?  Essentially, it is the task of the Republican candidates to project an image of capability and confidence and contrast it with the fits, starts and failures of the Obama Administration.  Once the Republican candidate becomes obvious, Republican voters must rally behind whoever it is and present a unified front in spite of their differences and preferences.  It will then be up to the candidate to perform well in the presidential debates, something Republican primary voters should keep in mind.   Candidate Reagan’s question to voters during his debate with President Carter is even more powerful today:  “Are you better off today than you were four  years ago?”
How many could say yes?  Still, the powers of incumbency are significant; the Obama campaign will have close to a billion dollars to spend, and the far Left organizers, media and special interest groups who control the Democratic Party will be in desperation mode. But if current trends continue it will be the Republican voter's and the selected candidate’s election to lose.

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