As we quickly approach the current Administration’s mid-term, an increase in focus on likely scenarios for the 2012 election pick up steam. With less than half of his term complete, President Obama’s team must already look ahead to 2012 and what it will take to hold on to the White House. The team would do well to channel the Clinton Administration’s “It’s the economy, stupid” mantra since nothing will have more impact on the mood of the voters than jobs and other economic issues.
While current conventional wisdom is that the economy overall is on the upswing, the attitude of the country is still largely pessimistic. Pockets that have been the hardest hit by the recession such as California, Florida, and the Rust Belt have yet to experience much of the job growth or housing market recovery that is often written about these days. Consumers are still fearful of overspending and the bankruptcy rate for the first six months of 2010 was up 14% over the same period last year. Clearly we are not out of the woods.
Regardless of gains made in passing Health Care Reform, Financial Industry Reform, or the war in Afghanistan, voters will likely cast their ballot in the 2012 election based on their feelings about the economy. The electorate has a short memory and despite the fact that it took years for the government to get the country in the financial mess it’s in, people want (actually need) quick action. It doesn’t matter which political party held office when the world financial collapse began, it is up to the Obama administration to convince the American people that they are not just the team to get us out of it but that we are already out of it.
It is impossible to predict whether or not measures such as the stimulus package will have done enough to create jobs and restore consumer confidence by the time the 2012 election kicks into high gear. Certainly every American hopes so.
Having said all that, even if the economy continues to sputter winning against an incumbent is no slam-dunk for the Republicans. This is particularly true since as of yet no leader has emerged that appears strong enough to unseat the sitting President. With just two years to go the GOP appears fragmented and unable to come to consensus on just what direction it wants to go — other than agreeing that it should block the Democrats. It will take a very strong leader to unite the party and create enough momentum to convince the eletorate that the Obama Administration has had enough time to finish the job.
While we can be certain that the 2012 election will be unable to match 2008 in terms of historical significance, it is possible that it could come close to matching in terms of drama. Nevertheless, both parties have a lot of work to do to prepare the country for another round of promises and campaign rhetoric. Unless we see considerable improvement in the economy overall between now and the 2012 election, voters may just decide that it’s time to throw them all out.