2012 will be a referendum, not a choice. One of the best established findings of contemporary political science is that in presidential contests involving an incumbent, the incumbent’s record is central to the public’s judgment.
No more youth movement. There is no way that the Obama campaign can expect to recreate the excitement that moved so many young and first-time voters not only to turn out to vote but also to work their hearts out for their hero.
Blue-state big business has moved on. Team Obama will not be able to raise the kind of money from Wall Street and Silicon Valley that it did in 2008. For complex reasons, relations between the president and substantial portions of the private sector have soured.
Obama is no longer the master of his fate. During the 2008 campaign, Obama could and did seize the initiative in the face of unexpected events. His agile response to the mid-September financial meltdown propelled him into a lead that he never surrendered. In 2012, by contrast, he will be at the mercy of events that he cannot control. The Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act. A military confrontation between Israel and Iran would put the administration in the no-win situation it has struggled to avoid, with incalculable consequences for our national security as well as our politics. If job creation returns to the strong pace of the late winter and remains there through the fall, he will be reelected with room to spare. But if the middling March employment report is a harbinger of things to come, the electorate’s evaluation of his performance will be harsh, and the road to reelection very steep indeed.