Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion about the 2010 elections post-mortem at UMD. There was agreement that last Tuesday’s election was a bad day for many people. It was also a confusing day with plenty of contradictory signs for 2012.
Among the few sure take-aways is the (almost certain) fact Obama will run for reelection, and–with a slight bit less certainty– he is not likely to face much if any competition in the primaries. This gives him a leg up on one term predecessors Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and HW Bush.
As I see it there are 5 factors that will influence the 2012 election: economy, turnout, infrastructure; message; GOP infighting
First is the economy,stupid. Almost everyone agrees. A bad economy, anemic growth, an unemployment rate at or above 8%; static income growth all spell trouble for Obama’s reelection changes.
Second, is turnout. Although the 2010 election turnout was a little higher than for 2006, it was still down about 40% from 2008. Given the tremendous hype surrounding this year’s election, this is disappointing, particularly so given who voted and who stayed home. As it turned out, the enthusiasm gap was real. Obama’s base stayed home. Voters between 18-29 comprised 11% of the electorate as opposed to 18% in 2008; African Americans were at 10%, down from 13% and Latinos stayed about the same, from 9% to 8%. Older voters and Republicans voted in high numbers. There was some flipping from Obama votes now voting republican but the bigger picture here I think is that we are looking at two different electorates who voted in 2008 and 2010. The one that shows up in force in 2012 may make a big difference in terms of which side wins.
Third is infrastructure, and by this I mean who controls the ground mechanics in key swing states. The governorships and state legislative races here give the GOP the edge. For 2012 Republicans will control the state legislatures and governorships for much of the midwest that Obama needs if he is going to win: Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio. The GOP of course also will control redistricting which is likely to place the Dens at an additional disadvantage when it comes to the fight to retake the House. estimates suggest it puts them back another 20 seats.
Fourth is messaging. The GOP, with the Fox megaphone successfully framed the 2010 election cycle as a battle against Obama’s big, near socialist government. Although Obama and the Dems had a great many successes during the last 2 years, you wouldn’t have known it from the campaign. If the Dems remain on the defensive and running away from their own agenda, they will lose in 2012, and perhaps deservedly so.
Finally a lot will depend on how the GOP establishment handles the new Tea Partiers who are looking to join the leadership ranks come next January. A civil war among Republicans will make the President’s reelection changes that much better. And of course, a lot will rest upon who is the Republican nominee. Palin as nominee would be a gift.
Otherwise, it’s the economy, stupid, and few people expect much improvement in that regard. The bottom line. Obama is going to have a difficult time getting re-elected.