When it comes to Presidential Elections, the Beltway Media and 24-hour cable networks and blogosphere need a horse race. Daily, weekly, monthly polls, from Gallup, Quinnipiac, Reuters/Ipsos, ABC/Washington Post, NBC/Wall Street Journal, Marist, and…
…God help us.
Right now the narrative is that President Obama is in dire trouble—although, in fact, his poll numbers are mixed, with some showing him headed for sure defeat, while others—in spite of the bleak economic picture— have him up on all the GOP contenders, nationally and in most swing states.
Still, the prevailing meme is that if the unemployment rate doesn’t drop to some magic level or another, Obama is headed for a one-term presidency. Jimmy Carter territory.
What pundits tend to overlook, is that elections are not merely about the latest labor department stats—though, those numbers are hugely important. But when we go into the voting booth, or fill out our ballots, we are voting for (and against) people. As in, human beings. Physical beings with personalities and characters. And, for the most part (rightly or wrongly) we tend to vote for the more likeable, appealing candidate. The one we want to look at and listen to for the next four years. The one we think is sincerely trying to guide the nation to better things, or the one who just gives us a good vibe.
Look back through the elections in your lifetime, and you’ll find, for the most part, that the more widely appealing, down to earth, charismatic or relateable candidate won. Of course, there are exceptions (Richard Nixon, anyone?). But our two-term presidents—Ike, Reagan, Clinton and yes, even George W Bush (if we believe he won both elections) won in part because more Americans liked them.
That’s not to minimize the major political factors—chiefly wars and the economy. They are, indeed, dominant. But in a close election, the likeability factor could well swing the outcome.
Let’s look at 2008. As I’ve said in my header, just two months before the election after his post-convention bounce (fueled, in part, by America’s fleeting crush on Sarah Palin), Gallup gave John McCain a 5-point lead over Barack Obama. But over the next two months, Americans took a good, hard look at both men. Their campaigning, their reactions to the financial crisis, the debates. And they also learned that Palin was a hate-mongering cipher, a train wreck.
We know how that one turned out. What about 2012? A year out, we haven’t a clue. The economy may limp forward, unemployment may creep down—or things could worsen, especially if Europe blows up. There could be an international crisis.
But all things being equal, the 2012 election will very likely come down to Barack Obama versus Willard Romney. Like many leaders, President Obama inspires hatred—all the more because of his race. But overall, his likeability scores have been consistently high, even among many who aren’t pleased with his performance.
His likely opponent has his fans, of course. But to many (including this writer) Romney comes across as the face of everything Americans are pissed off about—the “guy who fired you,” as Mike Huckabee once described him, a plutocrat—and a shifty, flip-flopping, unprincipled political coward who made his money “streamlining” companies—in other words, getting people laid off. And whose trickle down gospel seems certain to do what it’s always done—help the wealthy get wealthier, while the rest of us flatline—or worse.
Some of those detractors may hold their noses and vote for Romney. Or not. The point is, the polls right now are next to meaningless. They give the punditocracy something to chatter about.
But while they’re panting over the latest Gallup, or Marist or PPP or Rasmussen or…
Remember these numbers:
McCain 49, Obama 44.