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By Nicolas Bouchet
Having seen his democratic party suffer the worst midterm reversal since 1938, Obama finds himself confronted by gloomy economic and polling data, a gridlocked lame-duck
The 2012 presidential race kicked off on 3 November, even as votes were being recounted from Connecticut to Alaska. In the present atmosphere, one could be forgiven for thinking that the next two years will be little more than a countdown to a Republican return to the
Perhaps we should not read too much into all this frenzy; Bill Clinton was the target of countless hyperbolic attacks, suffered a disastrous midterm defeat, and yet sailed to re-election two years later. To put the sound and fury on
The Way Forward
Barack Obama will also derive some comfort from the fact that, historically, and especially in the post-Second World War era, American presidents have tended to be reelected. But less comforting is the example of the ones who did not in the last three decades - Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush - and what they share with the present incumbent of the
The likelihood is that Obama will have to campaign for a second term with the highest election-year unemployment rate since the Great Depression. It would take a remarkable job-creating recovery in the next two years for unemployment to fall below the seven percent mark, never mind to approach the five percent mark. Only twice in the post-war era has unemployment fallen by more than two percentage points over a two-year period: in the early 1950s and the early 1980s.
Certainly, one should not be too deterministic about the influence of unemployment on the political fortunes of presidents. But the second problem for Barack Obama is more directly political. He will be tested in the next two years by Republicans who, since his election, have done very well from a disciplined strategy of being the 'party of no' in
To a great extent, Obama's prospects for re-election depend on how he reacts to and plays off the Republican agenda. During
Such a challenge is very unlikely to succeed - not least in the absence so far of a credible candidate. But Obama's team is only too aware that those three recent one-term presidents were also the ones who were seriously challenged for their party's nomination.
In a way, the midterm result was the worst of both worlds for Obama. Had the Republicans won both the House and the
Barack Obama has scored some substantial wins in his first two years in office, even if the outcomes angered most on the right and some on the left. If anything, the political atmosphere between now and 2012 could be more turbulent and less conducive to presidential success. This month's State of the Union speech will reveal how (or indeed, whether) the president intends re-launch himself for the rest of his term, and on what platform he will seek re-election.
(Nicolas Bouchet is a researcher at the
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