Column: Obama's 2012 re-election chances fading

When President Barack Obama launched his re-election campaign this spring, things were looking relatively good. The economy was showing signs of recovery, and Obama received a popularity boost after he authorized Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden. The plan, created by the Department of Defense and intelligence organizations, could have ended disastrously. Aside from the potential loss of life, it would have resulted in a situation similar to the one in which Jimmy Carter found himself in 1980 after the Iran hostage crisis, which ended in a loss to Ronald Reagan in that year’s election.

This summer, however, hasn’t been as kind to Obama. The budget bill was pushed to the last minute before the United States defaulted on debt payments, and it didn’t have enough deficit reduction measures to satisfy one of the major credit rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s. The agency then downgraded the United States’ credit rating from AAA to AA+ for the first time ever. Regardless of how much responsibility Obama actually had, Republicans will not let the electorate forget that incident during the 2012 elections. The rating downgrade and a stagnating economy sent the stock markets into huge sell-offs, meaning investors are not optimistic about the near future of corporate performance. 

Unemployment remains above 9 percent, and has never been this high for this long since the Great Depression. To top it off, the Congressional Budget Office estimates unemployment will remain above 8 percent well past the 2012 elections, and GDP growth will be half of what is considered healthy growth for several years as well. 

Couple all of this with Obama’s recent national approval rating data, which is at an all-time low of 38 percent according to a recent Gallup poll (former President George W. Bush’s approval ratings were in the upper 50 percent range at this point in his presidency), and Obama’s chances at a second term appear to be fading quickly. Even approval among Obama’s base — generally young people, minorities and women — is dropping. From an approval rating of 38 percent this week, Obama will have to boost that by at least 10 percent historically to be able to win re-election.

None of these are good signs for Obama, but there are two factors that are still unknown and will have the biggest impact on the election, assuming nothing surprising happens: the economy in the months leading up to the election and the person Republicans choose to be their candidate. If the economy is still stagnating, or doing worse at this time next year, the Republican candidate is almost guaranteed to win. If the Republicans choose the “wrong” candidate, or if the economy somehow recovers spectacularly, the election will be more difficult to predict. 

The reason Obama’s current approval ratings matter, especially among his base, is because if his base is disillusioned, he will not be able to count on the huge number of volunteers he had last time, and Republicans already have a significant grassroots movement in the Tea Party. A recovering economy by late next year might not be enough to reinvigorate liberals who were expecting a different kind of president. I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama’s campaign advisers are secretly more worried than they would admit publicly.

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