At this time next year, American voters will be choosing a president. Current polls suggest a tight election, with President Obama trailing in some crucial swing states. But a year in politics is an eternity.
The Obama people are banking on the appeal of stability. “Don’t compare me with the Almighty,” Obama said in a recent speech, “compare me to the alternative.” The current crop of Republican presidential candidates has indeed been getting mixed reviews ahead of the primaries. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain may be leading the polls, but neither is showing much traction with independent voters. Many of the leading contenders have shown they are vulnerable—Romney fails to generate enthusiasm, Rick Perry has lost his early momentum, and Cain is mired in scandal.
If Obama is vulnerable, it is because the economy will likely be the deciding factor in the election, no matter who the GOP puts up against the president. The case for re-election will in all likelihood be centred around the problems he inherited, how he handled them, and the differences between his approach and that of the Republicans when it comes to job creation and economic performance. While foreign policy is an important file for Obama, and the successes of the Obama-Clinton tandem are widely acknowledged, it is safe to predict the president’s narrative will be essentially economic in nature.
On that front, there is a real risk Obama will be running for re-election with the U.S. suffering through the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. While growth in employment has occurred under the Obama administration and a serious depression was averted according to most economists, the rate of jobs growth has been slow, exposing him to criticism come election time.
Still, only two elected presidents have not been re-elected since 1945: Carter and Bush 41. Undoubtedly, the bully pulpit counts for something, and Obama is using it with more impact of late. As for Obama’s personal popularity, he has had consistently good poll numbers since entering the national scene. People generally like him as a person and want him to do well. This suggests Obama should not be underestimated in a one-on-one contest next autumn. (Incidentally, the same can’t be said for members of Congress, which has a 13 per cent approval rating, the lowest number ever recorded.)
Just recently, after surveying the GOP field, influential conservative pundit Bill Kristol sounded a note of pessimism about the Republicans’ chances of beating Obama. Indeed, the talk about Obama’s demise at this time next year may well be premature.