Why is Obama even close? If you look at the fundamentals, the president should be getting crushed right now. The economic mood of the country is terrible. Roughly 75 percent of Americans believe the economy is still in recession. According to a Quinnipiac survey, only 35 percent of Americans say they are better off than they were four years ago. Barely a third believe the country is heading in the right direction. The economic climate is as bad as or worse than it was in 1968, 1976, 1992 and 2000, years when incumbent parties lost re-election.
Brooks’s answer is a) Dems have a growing demographic advantage (single women, secular types) and b) voters like Obama’s cool and confident style.
Or … maybe voters are still cutting Obama considerable slack since he’s a first termer who inherited an economic mess. (And incumbents win about 70% of the time anyway.) “Blame Bush” still carries a bit of punch.
Let’s compare the economies in those election years Brooks mentions. The current misery index—inflation + unemployment—is 10.85. In May of those various election years, it was 7.42 (1968), 13.60 (1976), 10.62 (1992) and 7.19 in 2000. And in October of those years, it was 8.15 (1968), 13.16 (1976) 10.50 (1992) and 7.35 (2000).
So by the misery index measure, the economy is indeed worse today than it was in 1968, 1992 (barely), and 2000, but better than 1976. But keep in mind that in all those other years, the incumbent presidential party was finishing at least its second-straight term in office. So you had both a fatigue factor at play and the reality that the losing presidential candidates (Humphrey, Ford, Bush, and Gore) couldn’t blame the other party so easily since theirs already controlled the White House for some time.
(Now, let me also add that the real unemployment rate and the exceptionally slow recovery, to me, make the economy this year much, much worse than in any of those other elections years.)
Then there is the Carter Exception. Jimmy Carter was a first-term president who got bounced mostly due to the economy. But it was a really, really bad economy. The misery index in October 1980 was 20.27, and the economy suffered a recession earlier in the year.
Things aren’t that bad, and probably won’t be come November no matter what happens in Europe. The econ forecasting models make Obama a slight underdog. Sounds about right to me with a “more of the same” economy.