With all the bad economic news this week, my liberal and conservative friends seem hopeful (or dismayed) that Barack Obama is likely to get "crushed" in next year's election. Here are some reasons why I don't think that'll happen:
1) Money. Obama has a huge fundraising advantage over his GOP rivals, being the incumbent, not having a primary rival this time around, and considering his fundraising in '08 was recordbreaking. Look to see him raise a mountain of cash to swamp his opponent with--an opponent who will have come from a bruising and expensive primary battle. Caveat--at a certain point, a candidate only needs so much money before it gives him/her any additional advantage. There's only so many consultants you can hire, and so many pieces of mail, appearances to make, or TV time to buy. Look at Meg Whitman's expensive mess in California last year--her massive spending had diminishing returns after a certian point. Still, in this case, time that Romney (who I predict will be the nominee for reasons I'll get into another time) spends trying to raise money gives Obama time to target swing states and try to grab a few reds.
2) Economy. Yes, the economy is terrible right now, but there's a couple factors to consider. First, a majority of voters don't blame the president for our economy--mainly due to the slide beginning well before he was elected. Second, to the extent voters blame/credit a president for the economy, they are less focused on how good or bad the economy is in absolute terms than they are focused on the economic trend. The question won't be "how bad is unemployment or GDP in November 2012"--the question will be "how bad is unemployment or GDP in November 2012 compared to 2011, and are things on the right or wrong track". Considering things are pretty bad now, there is plenty of room for improvement over the next year. Caveat--things can of course get even worse, and even if they do improve by late 2012, if the improvement is too little too late, he could be punished as Bush Sr. was in 1992, where voters did not credit him for what was actually an economic recovery (that lasted a record nine years). But I think the economy still gives Obama an edge, as I discuss in 3) below.
3) His Opposition. The GOP are currently in the process of trying to make themselves completely unable to win any national elections for a long time. Part of this is due to embracing the extreme elements in their party, which insist on a "no tax hike" orthodoxy that puts them at odds with independents and even a significant number of Republicans. This also means that candidates in the primaries are going to have to jump through hoops to get the nomination that will require making themselves unelectable in the general--whether it's bashing homosexuals (an increasingly unpopular position), scapegoating of Muslims, or taking on the more insane of anti-Obama conspiracy theories. What wins the South Carolina primaries will ensure a loss in Pennsylvania, and even--what is becoming more likely--Ohio and Florida come November. Plus, as bad as the economy may be, the GOP appears just as out of tools to deal with it as the Democrats are. Spending stimulus may not work, but tax cut stimulus won't either. And no one has been adult about the debt, even as Obama ceded the initiative to Republicans who promptly ruled out any compromise on the issue. Whoever emerges from the GOP primaries will be compromised by the hard right, and running against a president who can aim straight at the middle. (And the left--mad as they may get at Obama--will turn out in droves for him rather than let some Tea Partied GOP nominee take over).
4) Bin Laden. Killing him has sort of provided a very quick response to GOP claims that Obama is weak on the war on terror. Not to mention, the guy hasn't really ended the wars he's inherited--issues which might be something if the GOP were anti-interventionist, but if they don't nominate Ron Paul--and they won't--then they won't attack him from that corner.
5) Demographics. Core constituencies of the Democrats--particularly Hispanics--have grown over the last four years, and the influx of black voters (reliable Democrats, and more so than ever with the first black president up for re-election) and blue staters moving into red states in the Sun Belt for jobs will only make states like North Carolina, Virginia and Florida more competitive, not less so. The blue states these migrants are coming from don't seem to be getting redder as a result--perhaps because they were much deeper blue to begin with.
So in the end, it'll be an incumbent president with plenty of cash to attack a GOP nominee left weak and compromised by a brutal and Tea-stained primary fight, competing for a large number of states that the Republicans used to be able to count on. The outcome is not without doubt--and of course anything can intervene to change things in a year--but the president has a strong edge for re-election next fall. You heard it here first!