Despite Obama’s Worst Month, He Can Still Win

The president will want to forget August, but he's still likely to get re-elected.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The last month has been about the worst in Barack Obama’s presidency. For the third time in the last year he got left naked at the poker table by Republicans as Eric Cantor walked off with his Bears hat in the debt ceiling negotiations, his resident haters are running around the country telling his base that he is a sellout, the economy is still lousy and a week ago politicos were openly fantasizing about having taken another candidate to the 2008 electoral prom.

This week, the president will be trying to convince the public and Congress that he has a realistic plan to reduce unemployment. Good luck. Even the downfall of ’80s uber-terrorist Muammar Gaddafi hasn’t lifted Obama’s job approval numbers above the electorally dangerous low 40s.

This is about as bad as it gets. And he’s probably going to get re-elected. That’s right, Obama is very likely to win re-election in 2012 and everyone in politics and political science knows it. This is not political hackery, or wishful thinking. Basic cold, hard campaign facts, history and, yes, even the economy give Obama an edge heading into 2012.

Worst Weeks in History

It is extremely difficult to unseat an incumbent president, and despite Obama hitting his lowest monthly approval numbers (43 percent) he looks surprisingly good historically.

Let’s take a look at his predecessors at this point in their first terms: George Bush 41 (74 percent), George Bush 43 (59 percent), Bill Clinton (46 percent), Ronald Reagan (43 percent) and Jimmy Carter (32 percent). Consider that Clinton and Bush 41 actually hit their lowest polling numbers during their re-election years and were dubbed by the press “the Incredible Shrinking Presidents” halfway through their terms.

Despite low job approval numbers Obama is still tied with or leading his two most likely challengers, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, and considering past presidential polls in August before an election year he’s looking pretty good.

In short, if history is any indicator, Obama’s chances right now of being re-elected are about fifty-fifty, which is amazing considering how miserable the economy looks. In fact, the most obvious hurdle and possible guarantor of the president’s re-election is the state of the economy. The overused factoid that “No president since FDR has ever been re-elected with unemployment over 7 percent” will not apply in the coming election.

Why? This recession will be almost eight years old by the time of the 2012 elections and will transcend two presidents and four volatile Congressional cycles. It’s hard for the public to place full blame on anyone, and even though no one is happy with Obama’s economic policies, according to a recent CBS-New York Times Poll, voters still trust him to handle the economy (47 percent) better than the GOP (33 percent).