RCP posted an interesting article last week about the chances Obama will get re-elected. Before I comment on this, we should be clear that this issue, while interesting, is only that–interesting. 2012 is too far away to predict with any certainty what will happen. Jay Cost is really responding to another article that claims the GOP will likely lose the 2012 challenge against Obama. That could very well be true. Cost, though, questions that assumption:
Let’s get something straight: if Republicans win 60% of the white vote in 2012, they stand a great shot at winning the White House. Here’s the math:
-In 2008, McCain won 55% of whites, who accounted for 74% of all voters.
-If the Republican nominee wins 60% of whites and they again count for 74%, then the GOP’s share of the vote will go up by 3.7% if everything else stays the same.
-But these voters will be coming from Obama’s side, so Obama’s share of the vote will go down by 3.7%.
-That makes for a total swing of 7.4%.
-Obama won the 2008 presidential vote by 7.27%. So, if 5% of white voters shift from Obama to the GOP nominee and everything else stays the same, the GOP would win the popular vote by 0.13%. So, that’s the popular vote. It would probably swing the Electoral College. The Democratic vote is clustered in big states like Illinois, New York, and California that are simply not in play. It would be mathematically possible for the GOP – whose voters are more beneficially distributed across the 50 states – to suffer the same fate as Gore in 2000, but it is pretty unlikely.
Is 60% of the white vote infeasible? Well, right now Gallup has Obama’s approval among white adults at 39%.
Oh, and Obama is at 62% approval among Hispanic adults according to Gallup. He won 67% of Hispanic voters in 2008. Such a drop-off would result in about a one point swing in the nationwide popular vote. A GOP popular vote victory of 1% or more would almost certainly tip the Electoral College.
Is it possible Obama can win in 2012? Yes. It may even be MORE likely in 2012 if the Republicans take the Congress. Cost finds this very possible, while I find it less possible. Cost says that people will likely vote for Obama if the Congress is Republican because the people want divided government. But do they? If the health care bill remains unpopular, divided government is not going to get it repealed. The only way to repeal the Obama legislation is to elect a president of the same party as the Congress. until the progressive era, we generally experienced just that–parties swept in and swept out en mass.Let us keep in mind that arguments and deliberation are also a part of elections. If Obama is still very unpopular and the people do not like his policies, that will be reason enough to oust him from office and vote for a Republican. I am unconvinced people actually like divided government and make a rational choice to vote for divided government even if they disagree strongly with the person they are voting for.
However, there is something else we should consider, even at this early stage: Who will challenge Obama if his numbers continue to slide? Few have raised this publicly–perhaps because it is too soon. But, let us ask ourselves: if Obama’s numbers continue to slide, the Democrat Party will have no choice but to challenge Obama for the nomination in order to save the party, and present itself as a palatable option. To stick with Obama under this scenario would be for the party to assent to Obama’s very unpopular agenda. To seem moderate, the party will be tempted to break with its president. I admit this is not a likely option, but it is possible. Obama’s approval and performance ratings are still in the tank (though improved somewhat).
His general approval rating is approaching Bush’s numbers. And this fact leads me to my next assessment of the presidential race (such that it is) at the moment: the Democrat Primary Process.
There is a potential problem with the Democrats nominating candidates that does not reflect the center–they use to a large extent proportional representation. This is what allowed Obama to secure the nomination over the more moderate candidate Hillary Clinton. Proportional representation allows more left of center candidates capture the nomination. The potential problem here is that the candidate will feel captured by the more fundamentalists of his/her party. This makes the movement to the center more problematic, and indeed, could even encourage a leftist challenge to the the nominee that is elected president. We see this happening today from Obama’s left flank; it is very unhappy with Obama. This will cause Obama more stress as we approach 2012–his electoral coalition will feel abandoned the more center he moves, but the more center he moves, he loses the tea party/independent/moderate Democrat. It is a precarious position he is in.
The Democrats seem to understand the problems with their proportional representation process, and hence, they have instituted the Gov. Hunt rule of super-delegates. This makes the Democrat party the most elitist of the two parties because the super-delegates are usually insiders, unelected, and unattached to the voters (Republicans make little to no such distinction). However, super-delegates are unlikely to counter the progressive spirit in the rest of the party–we saw this with their choice of Obama over Clinton. It would be unprogressive of them to counter the will of the party, and the minority elements of the party. They followed the popular (or more popular) choices made by proportional delegates. For a nice primer on the election of 2008, and the nomination process of each party, pick up The Year of Obama.
None of this means the Republicans have an easy path to election. They have to field a candidate the voters like, want, and are convinced will be trusted with the power of the executive office. Stay tuned.