The Thought Refuse

A Virtual Repository for the Mind

Obama Bucking The Historical Trend?

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In late February of 2008 when Barack Obama and John McCain were in a virtual tie in public opinion polls, Obama has gradually increased his percentage lead over McCain to reaching a peak of around 5% points.  The last month has seen that poll lead slowly degrade.  Beginning in late August with the oncoming party conventions, McCain began closing the poll gap which has closed to within a 1-2% points.

Granted, polls are liable to the intentions of the pollster.  How a question is phrased directly influences the answer given, and if the pollster seeks a particular answer, the question can be manipulated to provide the desired answer.  However, these numbers are an aggregate for numerous polls.  For the sake of argument, I’ll dismiss my inborn distaste for polls and proceed based on these numbers.

I don’t possess the extraneous effort required to examine the reasons behind Obama’s rise and fall in the polls.  The whims and fancies of voters on a day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month basis can sometimes present such an indecipherable maze that it’s almost overwhelming.  Rather, it would be prudent to examine the simplified voter decision making process and how it correlates to the historical trends in presidential campaigns.

Day to day voter opinion on candidates varies widely based on daily media consumption and singular campaign revelations.  In late July when Obama was on his European tour, the news services plastered his image across our televisions giving him a celebrity appeal.  The media exposure paid dividends with a Gallup poll having Obama posting a 6 point lead over McCain on July 21st.  However, as his European tour pressed on, the media began lambasting Obama for campaigning for a national election in foreign countries, and in a Gallop poll taken a week later on the 28th of July Obama lead slipped to one point.  A poll taken on any given day is a reflection of the voters immediate consciousness.  How one can find insight into voter capriciousness is beyond me.  I find little interest in trying to make sense of flippant voter opinion, but do find Obama’s failure to capture, and even relinquish, a sizable aggregate poll lead notable.

There are two undeniable factors that influence voter decision – the state of a depressed economy and the presence of an unpopular war.  More aptly, these two factors play an undeniable role presidential turnover from one party to the other.  Over the course of modern history, the presence of either a struggling economy or a prolonged, taxing war has been a guarantee for presidential party turnover.

An examination of modern presidential elections will bear this out.  Note my definition of modern begins post World War II primarily because pre-WWII the United States was not considered an international power.  The US economy exploded post WWII and, aside from the Spanish-American War, engaged in wars of personal “independence”.  So, lets look at presidential results post World War Two.

In 1950, Democratic president Harry Truman ordered American troops into the conflict on the Korean peninsula.  He brought the US into a war that lasted until 1953 and saw US troops suffer 390,000 causalities. With a war locked in a virtual stalemate, 1952 swept Republican Dwight Eisenhower into office winning by a margin of 11% over Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson.  Truman dropped out of the race following his lose in the Democratic New Hampshire primary.

Lyndon Johnson, Democratic president in 1965, presided over the official escalation of American involvement in the Vietnam War deploying some 200,000 soldiers by the end of the year.  With an draft quota unsettling the American populace, a protest movement swelled during the 1968 presidential campaign.  The war ultimately cost the Democrats the White House handing the reigns over to Richard Nixon, a Republican.

The energy crisis of the 1970’s in which oil prices spiked upwards causing a harsh economic downturn resulting in double digit inflation, cost Democrat Jimmy Carter the 1980 presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan by a margin of more then 10 points.

On the heels of Reagan, Republican George H.W. Bush served one term as president leading the country into the ultra successful Persian Gulf War.  However, come relection time a mild recession and questions on if Bush should have ousted Saddam Hussien at the end of the war cost him a second term.  Bush Sr lost the popular vote to Democrat Bill Clinton 43% to 37%.

It’s an undeniable fact in political life that any combination of a depressed economy and/or an unpopular war will cost the incumbent presidential party the office in the next election.  Voters are not overly complicated when it’s time to cast their ballots.  When things are sour, they want the other guy or in this case the other party.

These two essential elements to presidential party turnover are in place.  A protracted and wildly unpopular war has dragged it’s feet across nearly the entire two terms of Republican president George W. Bush.  Coupled with a crumbling economy, voter dissatisfaction with the current president are at all time record lows.  No previous president in the history of the United States has has an approval rating of 22%.  If history is any indication, the voting public should be screaming for the other guy.  He could be a crudely constructed puppet made of a sock and yarn scraps, and we would vote him into office provided his party affliation was anything other then the guy who we perceived to run this country into the ground.

Hence, it’s with some surprise that when looking at poll numbers I don’t see an increasingly widening gap in favor of the other guy, Barack Obama.  In fact, those numbers are closing.  Maybe, just maybe these numbers are indicative of those daily voter whims, and won’t bear out come election time.  However, if the American public opts for the same guy, the socio-political experts will have a field day trying to disect what has to be considered one of the biggest failures in presidential election history.


Written by huxbux

September 23, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , , , , ,

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  1. […] alluded to this previously in a post and the issue resurfaced in the comments section for a post at The Blog At The End of the […]

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