Why the 2012 Presidential Election is a Complete Toss-Up

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COMMENTARY | There are two universal truths of winning elections in the United States.

* If you fail to inspire your base and win over more independents than the other guy, you will lose. This is especially true of presidential elections, where the constituency is the entire population (and thus the leanings of every citizen must be taken into account by candidates). If you do not turn out your base, you lose that quarter of the population. But if you fail to appeal to moderates you will be stuck with the radical minority of your base. This is what happened to Sen. John Kerry in 2004. Incumbent George W. Bush appealed more to moderate voters than the uninspiring and "flip-flopping" Kerry did. In the 2012 election, this would seem to heavily favor President Barack Obama. Not only is Obama an expert campaigner and orator, but there is not a single viable Republican candidate who will be able to appeal to both the party activists who will propel him/ her to the nomination and the moderates who may carry the day next November.

* If the economy is performing poorly and people are unemployed, the party in power will lose. U.S. voters vote with their wallets more than anything else. There is a measure of public perception called the Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, which is often a reliable indicator of how any election is going to go. "The Obama Victory," a 2010 book on how Obama won the White House in 2008, cites John McCain pollster Bill McIntruff. "When the party in power wins, the Michigan consumer sentiment index is at least 96. ... The three times [the index] has been in the 70s, the party in power has lost: Jimmy Carter, Gerry Ford and George H.W. Bush in '92. In October [2008] the number was 58. In other words, there's not a number like this. When you look at those numbers, you conclude that we're going to lose the election." This is the phenomena that was at work in the 2010 "shellacking," where the index was at 71.6. In April (the latest date for which data is available), the index was at 69.8, and by all accounts, shows no sign of trending upward into the 90s by next November. Under this analysis, Obama seems to be doomed. The 2012 campaign (barring any miraculous economic recovery or Republican dark horse savior) will test these two truths. Will the American voting public vote with their wallets and make President Obama a one-term president or will they flee from the Republican alternative who will likely be unable to fire up enough independents alongside an increasingly radical and extremist Republican base? Either way, one of these truths must win out, which will make the 2012 election a complete toss-up, whoever the Republican nominee is.

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