TWQ: Will Obama Be Running Against the Economy? - Fall 2011
October 1, 2011
When the conversation turns to the 2012 presidential race, it usually doesn’t take too long before someone suggests that Republicans have little chance of winning next year. Some argue that Republicans don’t have a bluechip candidate who can beat President Obama; others that too many prominent contenders concluded that the incumbent is unbeatable, and as a result, they opted not to run, thinking they might have a better chance of getting elected in 2016. A very different view holds that, if you had to predict today whether President Obama will be re-elected, you would be better off if you knew what the economy will look like in 2012.
Few would make the case that the identity of the Republican nominee is irrelevant, but this whole argument is centered on the view that when an incumbent president of the United States is seeking re-election, that contest is effectively a referendum on that incumbent rather than a basic choice between two candidates. Adherents of this view argue that unlike an election with voters choosing between two non-incumbents, a re-election race is more like deciding whether to renew that president’s contract for another four years. Rather than being an even-handed popularity contest, it is a race based on the performance of the incumbent. That kind of decision is based on voters’ assessment of the U.S. economy, their own economic well-being, and an assessment of the incumbent’s stewardship of the economy. Change (year over year) in U.S. GDP, the unemployment rate, and in real personal disposable income are all key indices that might help ascertain how voters might see the president and whether that incumbent would likely be re-elected.