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Will Obama be Re-Elected?

Back in 2009, Thomas Patterson, a political scientist at Harvard’s Kennedy School, predicted that, “if we see some brand of upswing in the economy before 2012 (as currently predicted by the Fed), the next [election] could very well be “Morning in America” for President Obama.

What a difference two years makes. Jon Stewart even unveiled a new feature on The Daily Show: “Oh My God, Rick Perry is Going to Be Our Next President.”

So, is the smart money on the GOP in 2012? Maybe, but don’t discount Obama too readily.

Allan Lichtman, the American University historian, still says Obama’s the one for 2012, and he has a proven track record: Lichtman successfully predicted the past seven presidential elections using his “13 Keys.”

They test the performance of the party that holds the presidency. If six or more of the 13 keys go against the party in power, then the opposing party wins.“The keys have figured into popular politics a bit,” Lichtman says. “They’ve never missed. They’ve been right seven elections in a row. A number that goes way beyond statistical significance in a record no other system even comes close to.”…

Working for the president are several of Lichtman’s keys, tops among them incumbency and the scandal-free nature of his administration.Undermining his re-election is a lack of charisma and leadership on key issues, says Lichtman, even including healthcare, Obama’s crowning achievement.

What about killing Osama bin Laden? Won’t that pay any political dividends? Probably not.

When 53 Americans were taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979, the most oft-heard prediction was that the humiliating spectacle would give a huge boost to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s drive to deny President Carter a second term. Instead, the country rallied around its commander in chief....

...[I]t was a short-lived boost and his approval numbers were down to 31 percent by November. Republican Ronald Reagan later would be able to cite that rescue failure as an embarrassing example of what he called “the hollow military.” But very few of the “experts” at the time foresaw the political impact of Iran on Carter....

Granted, presidents always face tougher reelection battles when the economy is tanking. Parties do, too—thus in 2008, when voters repudiated the GOP in the aftermath of the financial crisis. But it’s not impossible, as Texas historian H.W. Brands pointed out:

In American history, only one president has won a second term when the economy was in dire shape: Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1936. This bleak record would seem to bode ill for President Obama as he looks toward 2012 across a clouded economic horizon.

But Roosevelt's exception to the historical rule leaves some hope for Obama and his supporters. Despite an unemployment rate above 15 percent - compared with less than 10 percent today - Roosevelt won 61 percent of the popular vote and swamped Republican Alf Landon of Kansas by the widest Electoral College margin in American history: 523 to 8.

The White House has actually consulted another historian, Michael Beschloss, in order to plan its reelection strategy in bad economic times.

Two Presidents in the last century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, won re-election amid substantial economic suffering. Both used the same basic strategy. They argued that the country, though in pain, was improving, and that the ideas of their opponents, anchored in past failures, would make things worse.

Of course, the problem, as Brands explained with the FDR-Obama comparison, was that FDR had a “breathtaking” record of accomplishment in 1936 thanks to the New Deal. He was also scrappier than Obama—his rhetoric against “economic royalists” is mirrored today only by the most radical invectives against “banksters,” rhetoric which the president does not use.