Friday, March 11, 2011

Election 2012 Preview: Handicapping the Primaries

It's really too early for most of us to start thinking about the 2012 Presidential election. But for those who are planning on running for that office, if you're starting to think about it just now, you're already too late. The serious contenders have already begun to lay the groundwork for their local campaigns in key early states, and have begun to line up fundraisers, so that they have a nice, full war chest to begin the campaign season this summer. As always, there will be a number of parties that will contend for the office of President of the United States, but protestations of Greens and Libertarians aside, there are really only two parties worthy of serious consideration at this point: the Democrats and the Republicans. I've taken the liberty of gleaning the lists at Intrade, to get a sneak peek at what the early betting line looks like. (The numbers were current as of late afternoon on March 7th.)

The Democrats: Do we really have to have this conversation? In the modern term-limit era, only two sitting, eligible Presidents have not chosen to seek re-election: Truman and Johnson. And in that same era, only two Presidents saw a serious primary challenger for the nomination: Ford and Carter. The bottom line is that the Democratic nomination belongs to Barack Obama if he should want it, and all indications are, he does. The betting line bears this out:

Barack Obama: 89.5%
Hillary Clinton: 5.2%
Joe Biden: 4.0%

Vice President
Joe Biden: 90.0%
Hillary Clinton: 7.5%

Basically, no one unseats a sitting President who wants re-election. I wouldn't be so bold as to say it's outright impossible, but it's never happened yet. I'm inclined to say that barring some pretty spectacular events, it's not going to happen next year, either. I'm saying that partly because I think that's the reasonable way to bet, and partly because I really don't want to see the kinds of spectacularly horrifying events that would force it to happen. Also, an interesting point to note is that the last President to boot a VP for a re-election bid was FDR, who did it twice, and had three Vice-Presidents during his terms in office. It's a pretty solid lock that the Democrats are going to give the Obama/Biden ticket another whirl.

The Republicans: The Republican field is a far, far more interesting bunch. No one wants to commit. More to the point, no one wants to be the first to commit. Even more to the point, no one wants to commit before they know what Sarah Palin has in mind. Which is kind of funny, because ... well, see below:

Mitt Romney: 25.3%

Mitt Romney has a plurality of shares right now, and he's going to run a strong campaign. He'll do quite well in the early races. But he's got a couple of serious problems. First, ObamaCare is RomneyCare with the serial numbers filed off. I don't think that's a bad thing, but it's liable to be electric death with the Republican base. Second, he's a Mormon. And that's going to be a huge issue as the campaign rolls into the Bible Belt.

Tim Pawlenty: 13.5%

Tim Pawlenty does fairly well among Republicans who've heard of him. He's going to be fighting for name recognition amongst a fairly well-known field. His best option may well to be to sit this one out, and wait for 2016.

Mitch Daniels: 12.0%

Mitch Daniels is going to be vying with Romney for the mantle of the "establishment" candidate in this race. But this may not be the establishment's year, and Daniels may also be better served just sitting this one out.

Mike Huckabee: 9.4%

Mike Huckabee is well-liked amongst evangelical Republican voters, which is why he surprised everyone with early wins in the 2008 primaries. The "Oh, Hell No" reaction that kicked him out of the 2008 race may not happen again in 2012. Then again, it might. Huckabee's been courting the Tea Party vote, and we'll see over the course of this Fall and next Spring how well he's succeeded.

Sarah Palin: 7.0%

Sarah Palin either runs strongly in or leads a lot of early polls, and the conventional wisdom is that the race is hers to lose. And she may be just the woman for that job. She's got the star power and the charisma to mount a serious run at the nomination. But, can she put together a competent, effective team to get the job done? My feeling is that she's her own worst enemy. Her opponents' best strategy might be to attack her by not attacking, and thereby let her demolish herself.

Newt Gingrich: 6.2%

Newt Gingrich may well be the best-known of all potential candidates ... which is at once both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. You know the "sweet spot"? Newt's in the place farthest away from it as far as name recognition goes: no one especially likes him, and a lot of people hate him like metastasized cancer. Expect his candidacy to hit the wall early and burst into flames.

John Huntsman: 5.6%

John Huntsman would also be well advised to sit this one out, although experience with a national campaign might be of value. His association with the current Administration cannot but be a disadvantage amongst the hard-core Right, and they're the ones who'll show up for the primaries and caucuses.

Michelle Bachmann: 4.0%

Michelle Bachmann is one of the darlings of the Tea Party movement, and may well be their favorite, provided that Sarah Palin isn't also in the room. She may also be quite mad. The good news here is that she probably still thinks of Balaclava as a glorious victory, and will probably do the political equivalent, and charge upslope at a prepared artillery battery. We can only hope.

Haley Barbour: 3.3%

Haley Barbour is deader than last week's fried chicken. No real chance.

Donald Trump: 3.1%

Donald Trump, if he should run, will mount an immensely entertaining campaign for a month or two, until he realizes there's no money to be made in it.

Chris Christie: 3.1%

Chris Christie is on the Intrade lists, but does he really want the job?

And The Winner...

Generic Democratic Nominee: 63.1%
Generic Republican Nominee: 35.0%


Barack Obama: 61.1%
Mitt Romney: 11.3%
Mitch Daniels: 5.0%
Mike Huckabee: 5.0%
Tim Pawlenty: 4.6%
Sarah Palin: 3.0%

Next year looks like it's going to be an incumbent's year. Employment will probably be up (it's trending upwards already), the stock market is doing well, and provided that the foreign situation doesn't go straight to pot, people will be feeling relatively safe. This is an environment that allows a current office-holder to sell his record, and one that makes a challenger's job that much harder. If you look back on the first-term Presidents who've failed to win a second term, you see one or more common factors: a bruising challenge for the nomination, a sour economy, or a bad situation abroad. I don't see any of those happening in the next eighteen months.

Bottom line: if you have any friends willing to take the bet, Obama/Biden '12 for the win is probably worth a buck or two.


Jack Jodell said...

Interesting documentation, Tim. I, too, think it's Obama's election to win. We'll see how all this plays out...

Manifesto Joe said...

I would wager that Obama, after a period of looking all-too conciliatory, will start playing political Kabuki with the Republicans for the next year and a half. I don't think they've got a superstar who can steal the scenes from him. But I fear that we will then see a replay of the later Clinton years, with a Democratic president having to deal with a hostile Republican House for the duration.

Infidel753 said...

Agreed about the Dems. The only way Obama could lose the nomination would be if he screwed something up so badly that his whole Presidency was universally considered a disaster, and in that case the Democrat would lose, whether it was Obama or someone else.

Romney being perceived as in the lead reflects the fact that mostly-secular mainstream Americans don't get the mentality of the intensely-religious minority which now dominates the Republican base (and primary electorate). See here. For the real scoop on who's likely to get the Republican nomination, you'd have better luck looking at polls of Republicans who have a solid record of voting than at Intrade.

The argument for Daniels is electability -- that he's a moderate who would have a chance with lots of voters beyond the Republican core. The more he joins in on the union-busting, the less convincing that will look.

Since Obama will probably win anyway, Republican insiders might well want to let one of the nutjobs like Palin have it this time. It would mean Obama winning in a 1984-like blow-out, but he'll still be President whether he wins in a landslide or 51%-49%, and the former would help insiders make the case that the nutjob/teabagger wing of the party is a liability and needs to be brought under control.

John Myste said...

I never reviewed RomneyCare and I don't closely follow Romney, but, does Romney favor anything that looks like Universal Healthcare? I think Obamacare is simple a compromise becausee Obama could not have passed anything more socialist looking than Universal healthcare. I say this not as a criticism, but in recognition of his pragmatism. I am a socialist at heart.