Can President Obama make history (again)?
Posted at: 08/17/2012 11:59 AM
| Updated at: 08/17/2012 2:54 PM
By: Dr. Timothy Kneeland | WHEC.com
In 2008 Barack Obama made history. He ran in the first election cycle since 1928 when no incumbent president or vice president was running for the White House. He ran in a year when campaigning started earlier than ever and the party conventions were later than ever. He ran in a year when more than half the caucuses and primaries were held prior to mid February. He raised more money than any other candidate in history, was the first candidate elected directly from the U.S. Senate since John F. Kennedy and was the first Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976 to get over 50% of the popular vote. On top of that he was the first African American elected president. If President Obama is going to get reelected he will have to make history once again by beating the economic trends in post World War II election history.
The first problem the president faces is the stubbornly high unemployment rate which is officially 8.2% but may be higher depending on how this figure is calculated. Ronald Reagan won reelection in 1984 when the rate was 7.4% but that was actually a drop from the 8+% unemployment rate of 1982. President Obama has seen very little movement downward on employment figures in the last three years. No President since World War II has won reelection with unemployment rates higher than 7.4%, if President Obama does not see a miraculous fall in unemployment numbers and wins reelection it will be historic and set a new precedent in modern election history.
The second problem the President Obama faces is the rate at which the economy grew during his presidency. James Campbell at the University of Buffalo has calculated the growth rate of presidents from their second year in office until the second quarter economic indicators of their fourth year. No president with an average lower than 2.7% (Jimmy Carter had 2.6%) has won reelection. Campbell notes that President Obama has an average of 2.1%. Once again, if President Obama is reelected it would be a historic moment in U.S. electoral history and set a new threshold.
A third problem is that the news coming from economic experts is gloomy and it is hard to put a happy face on this. Franklin Roosevelt was reelected with high unemployment and an anemic economy, but he had control over the House and Senate and faced little opposition from Republicans. In fact the GOP was an endangered species after the 1936 election! Furthermore, Roosevelt was a gifted speaker whose words dripped with optimism and ebullience – even when castigating political naysayers or talking about the economy. President Obama has moments of soaring rhetoric but he voice does not always ring with optimism and when he is angry it is more than apparent. Tone or the latent message is as critical to delivery as the manifest message of the words chosen.
The good news for President Obama is that incumbents (with no major scandals) always have an advantage over their challengers. One such advantage is fundraising. I would note that according to the latest Federal Election Commission filing of June 30, 2012, President Obama had amassed twice as many campaign contributions ($300 million) than Mitt Romney ($153 million). Another $120 million has been spent on the campaigns by the Super Pacs in support of their candidate. The money is harbinger of support and can be used to broadcast ads that either frame the ideas of the candidate or attack their opponent. The election is far from decided at this point and the proof can be found in the nasty rhetoric, the malicious if not slanderous statements by campaign surrogates, and the blitz of campaign ads in swing states. It will only get worse as the election draws closer.
As the election is heating up I thought my next blog might take on a lighter tone before we get into a discussion of the conventions.