Nile Gardiner is a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator. He appears frequently on American and British television and radio, including Fox News Channel, CNN, BBC, Sky News, and NPR.
Why Barack Obama may be heading for electoral disaster in 2012
On a recent visit to London I was struck by how much faith many British politicians, journalists and political advisers have in Barack Obama being re-elected in 2012. In the aftermath of the hugely successful Special Forces operation that took out Osama Bin Laden and a modest spike in the polls for the president, the conventional wisdom among political elites in Britain is overwhelmingly that Obama will win another four years in the Oval Office. Add to this a widespread perception of continuing disarray in the Republican race, as well as a State Visit to London that had the chattering classes worshipping at the feet of the US president, and you can easily see why Obama’s prospects look a lot rosier from across the Atlantic.
But back in the United States, the reality looks a lot different. Many political leaders in Britain fail to understand the degree to which the American people are deeply unhappy with their president’s poor handling of the economy. Nor have they grasped the epic scale of the defeat suffered by the president in the November mid-terms, and the emphatic rejection by a clear majority of Americans of the Big Government Obama agenda.
Just seven months ago, the United States was swept by a conservative revolution that fundamentally transformed the political landscape on Capitol Hill, and gravely weakened the ability of the president to pass legislation. This revolution is not in retreat but gaining ground, led by charismatic figures such as Paul Ryan, the Reaganite chairman of the House Budget Committee, entrusted with reining in out of control government spending. And as a Gallup poll showed, America is unquestionably a conservative country ideologically, but one that is ironically led by the most left-wing president in the nation’s history.
Ultimately, the 2012 presidential election will be decided by the state of the economy, and new data released this week makes grim reading for the White House. In fact you cannot watch a US financial news network at the moment, from Bloomberg to CNBC to Fox Business, without a great deal of pessimism about the dire condition of the world’s biggest economy. 66 percent of Americans now worry the federal government will run out of money in the face of towering public debts.
To say this has been an extremely bad week for the Obama administration on the economic front would be a serious understatement. As The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, home prices in the United States have sunk to their lowest levels since 2002, falling 4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2011. At the same time, employment growth is stalling, with only 38,000 Americans added to the workforce in May, the smallest increase since September. This compares with 179,000 jobs added in April. There has also been a steep slowdown in the manufacturing sector, and a downturn in the stock market on the back of weak economic news.
Bill Clinton’s labour secretary Robert Reich summed up the grim mood in a hard-hitting op-ed in The Financial Times, which took aim at both the administration and Congress:
The US economy was supposed to be in bloom by late spring, but it is hardly growing at all. Expectations for second-quarter growth are not much better than the measly 1.8 per cent annualised rate of the first quarter. That is not nearly fast enough to reduce America’s ferociously high level of unemployment… Meanwhile, housing prices continue to fall. They are now 33 per cent below their 2006 peak. That is a bigger drop than recorded in the Great Depression. Homes are the largest single asset of the American middle class, so as housing prices drop many Americans feel poorer. All of this is contributing to a general gloominess. Not surprisingly, consumer confidence is also down.
Unsurprisingly, the polls are again looking problematic for the president. The latest Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll shows just 25 percent of Americans strongly approving of Obama’s performance, with 36 percent strongly disapproving, for a Presidential Approval Index rating of minus 11 points. In a projected match up between Obama and a Republican opponent, the president now trails by two points according to Rasmussen – 43 to 45. The RealClear Politics poll of polls shows just over a third of Americans (34.5 percent) agreeing that the country is heading in the right direction, with nearly three fifths (56.8 percent) believing it is heading down the wrong track. That negative figure rises to a staggering 66 percent of likely voters in a new Rasmussen survey, including 41 percent of Democrats.
There is no feel good factor in America at the moment. But there is a great deal of uncertainty, nervousness, even fear over the future of the world’s only superpower. This is hardly a solid foundation for a presidential victory for the incumbent. Even though we don’t know yet who he will be up against, Barack Obama could well go into 2012 as the underdog rather than the favourite he is frequently portrayed as. On balance we’re likely to see a very close race 17 months from now. But there is also the distinct possibility of an electoral rout of the president if the economy goes further south. “Hope and change” might have played well in 2008, but it is a message that will likely ring hollow in November 2012, with an American public that is deeply disillusioned with the direction Obama is taking the country.