Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who Will Win the White House?

To win John McCain must snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Many times he has done just that, but now he faces a stacked deck.

Economists, historians, political scientists, pollsters and psychologists point to an Obama victory, based upon their forecasting models and analysis.

Economists find that when economic growth is significantly up, inflation down and disposable income up, the party in the White House usually wins. That’s not the case now. James Carville got it right: “It’s the economy, Stupid.” Advantage? Obama.

Some psychologists believe that a candidate’s charisma and optimism foreshadow success. In 1960 Kennedy’s charisma and optimism, “Let’s get the country moving again,” contributed to his razor-thin victory. In 1980 Reagan’s charisma and campaign theme, “It’s morning in America,” helped him beat Jimmy Carter, who spoke about “malaise in America.” On this count Obama is more like Kennedy and Reagan than is McCain. Advantage? Obama.

Historians note that when the incumbent party in the White House has a reasonably good record and standing in the polls, that party’s presidential candidate will likely win as occurred in 1988 when Bush succeeded Reagan. The present standing of the Bush administration presents McCain with a long, uphill climb. Advantage? Obama.

The third-party candidacies of Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000 and 2004 crippled the campaigns of Bush and Gore, respectively. But this year’s principal third-party candidates, Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, are not making waves. Advantage? Obama.

When Ted Kennedy and Pat Buchanan challenged the nominations of Carter and Bush in 1980 and 1992, respectively, they created lasting wounds, which contributed to the defeats of Carter and Bush. Unlike those contests, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s support of Obama is unifying the Democratic Party. For McCain questions still remain about whether his choice of Sarah Palin will maintain his party’s unity. Advantage? Obama.

Data from the Civil War through 2004 show that the incumbent party in the White House normally wins reelection after the first term and also has a marginal advantage after a second term, but the public’s disapproval of the Bush administration negates that historical benefit for McCain. Advantage? Obama.

Customarily a higher voter turnout favors Democrats as occurred in 1976 when good weather in all 50 states generated record turnouts and contributed to Carter’s narrow victory over Ford. Obama’s extensive “ground campaign” of registering new voters and increasing voter turnout should favor him. Advantage? Obama.

Presidential campaigns can turn on a dime. In 1960 Nixon, the odds-favorite to beat Kennedy, lost the first debate and never recovered. In 1980 Reagan’s unexpected win over Carter in the first debate laid the groundwork for his convincing victory.

This year Obama demonstrated in the first debate that he could stand head to head with the more experienced McCain. That and the unexpected Wall Street debacle have changed the circumstances of this year’s race. Advantage? Obama.

Almost always public opinion polls accurately predict the winner, and to date they give a slight advantage to Obama. But beneath these head-to-head polls are two lesser-known polls: “negative ratings” and “racial voting.”

In 1980 and 1992 “high negatives” contributed to the defeats of Carter and Bush, respectively. The most recent polls show Obama with lower “negatives” than McCain, especially after the first presidential debate, which increased McCain’s “negatives.” Advantage? Obama.

Polls reveal a tug-of-war along racial lines among Democrats. While Obama expects to win perhaps 96 percent or more of a greatly enlarged Black vote, he faces the prospect of losing a significant number of white Democrats, who may not vote for him for reasons of race and/or qualifications.

In a close race, Obama may need an extraordinary turnout of Blacks to compensate for whatever losses he may incur from white Democrats, especially in such battleground states as Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida.

But Obama’s support from Bill and Hillary Clinton should reduce the risk of his losing a significant number of these white Democratic voters. Advantage? Obama.

Before pronouncing “last rites” on the McCain campaign, remember 1948.


Dr. Doug said...

I think a greater analysis of the Palin-factor is necessary. This factor has very little data to go with it. It may be that it will have an over-riding effect on the equation.

Willie the Groundskeeper said...

Interesting comments.

I would argue that likability is the key to the White House since the TV era began.

Beginning with the first televised debate between JFK and Vice President Nixon people have voted for the candidate they liked better - as a person. Not necessarily the most qualified.

Clearly, the sitting Vice President was more qualified to be President than a young senator. Yet he lost, in large part because he appeared less friendly - or affable on TV.

Also, take into account the more modern era - Reagan v. Carter; Bush v. Clinton; Bush v. Gore.

Today, we have one candidate who says "I've never won Miss Congeniality." And it's his prickley demeanor that could be his gratest strength, but in affect, may make him unelectable.

David Wagner said...

I'd only point out that all the battleground states, which will be decisive, are still within the margin of error, and McCain still shows a (slight) lead in some of them.

Also, McCain is always at his best when he's written off. After watching his back-from-the-dead capture of the nomination, I predicted that he could only win the general election if he were down 15 points in mid-October. I was only half joking.

Gerry said...

Dr. Dunn,

I choose not to respond to the question of who is most likely to be next elected as the President of the United States; but, to ask in reply what import should be given that for so long we have been divided by such a thin margin? For as long as I can remember, nobody ran away with the race to the White House, nor has there been a surplusage of anything less than a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court. Why is that, I wonder?

Bear in mind, having read your previous posts and articles, I think that you and I agree ideologically on most points. I further presume, perhaps arrogantly, that we are "correct" on a number of issues. So, I still ask myself, why is it that enough Americans see it so differently that we always end up in these 49-51 results?

Is there something fundamental to either our shared faith or our interpretation of our Constitutional system that people like you and me just "aren't getting?" On the converse, is there something so fundamental that those who think differently "just don't get?" Does the fact that we have hovered for so long around such a constantly slim majority, on either side, necessarily indicate that one side or the other (or both) have gotten it all wrong?

marion windemere said...

Sarah Palin: The Great Communicator Returns

If Reagan could have had a female protege, it would be Sarah Palin. Many have compared her to Teddy Roosevelt, but her hero is Reagan, and it showed tonight.

With courage, clear explanations of each problem discussed, and an upbeat sense of humor, Sarah fielded every question, and de-fused every attack.

She not only met and exceeded expectations, she clearly explained and championed the positions of McCain and their maverick Reform ticket.

Expect new life from conservatives and independents, and a big swing of votes toward the Palin lodestar -- McCain has discovered her, and America has a new sweetheart -- we will be hearing much more from this fragrant flower of the arctic tundra, Sarah Palin, heart of the Heartland of America.

We are all blessed.

~Nancy Shuman

Victor Oladokun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor Oladokun said...

Once again, an exceptional analysis. With less than a month to go there is still no telling what can happen.

With regard to the follow-up comment on Palin, other than energizing the Republican base, the problem is she is not taken seriously enough by sufficient numbers of Independents or Democrats, who could otherwise have been persuaded to vote Republican. There are certainly a lot more qualified and informed candidates than McCain's pick. Her obvious lack of depth is simply a negative for the joint ticket, other than within the Evangelical community.

This is my take. If the "Maverick's" last refuge of hope is smear rather than a discussion of substantive issues relevant to most Americans, then its good night ... lights out!

thomas said...

America has reached the end of one era and is preparing to enter a new one. History will say that George W. Bush killed the Reagan revolution and Barack H. Obama revived the Roosevelt revolution. The rise of the “New Roosevelts” began with the 2006 Democrat takeover of the U.S. Congress and will end in a sweeping majority that will rival the 1976 victory after Watergate.

It appears nearly certain that Barrack Obama will win the White House and Congress may capture the 60 seats necessary in the Senate to override a filibuster and ensure near absolute control over U.S. domestic and foreign policy. While the election of a non-white male as U.S. President signals a shift in American identity and a dispatching of historical prejudices, even more significant could be the far-reaching changes in economic, social, health and education policy. While a great deal of attention has been given to the softening of U.S. foreign policy that an Obama presidency would bring, less consideration has been given to the tectonic shifts in domestic policies that may take place. A democratically controlled government emboldened with the current economic crises may perceive the justification to enact across-the-board change.

We believe that changes to the role and structure of the U.S. government are about to take place. Under normal conditions, a White House and Congress controlled by the same party would not elicit such notice, but these are not “normal” times. With the economic crisis backed by U.S. forces fighting in two countries, we foresee an activist U.S. President and Congress, supported by a broad mandate moving to re-shape the fabric of social conditions in America.