2012 Election Analysis • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

2012 Election Analysis

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Marie A. Eisenstein, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science, Indiana University Northwest

Marie A. Eisenstein, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science
Indiana University Northwest

If the 2012 election is consistent with the past, it will be decided solely by the economy.  Winning a second term is always a difficult proposition, and historically, no president has won re-election when unemployment has been so high for such a sustained period of time.  While the polling indicates a close race, there are still a considerable number of “undecided” voters who will not decide until Election Day.  And, if they vote based on their pocketbook – the economy – they will give Romney a victory.  There is some similarity to the 1980 Carter/Reagan election wherein polls indicated a close race, but on Election Day, the undecided voters overwhelmingly supported Reagan over Carter primarily because of the bad economy.

However, because it is a close race, dramatic events can intervene to change the influence of “pocketbook” voting.  One such dramatic event is Hurricane Sandy.  Such a large-scale disaster gives President Obama a natural opportunity to be presidential, demonstrating effective leadership in crisis.  The hurricane has also effectively displaced media coverage regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi (Libya) as well as any positive discussion related to Governor Romney and his ability to improve our economy.

In short, this calamity gives President Obama a natural platform to play-up his positives while it crowds out discussion of his negatives. That said, some research suggests that these type of calamities tend to hurt the electoral bids of those already in power; when people are beset with problems, there is an emotional response that blames “leadership” (fair or not).  This, of course, tempers any expectation that this disaster will help and not hurt President Obama on Election Day.

Another issue related to Sandy is the potential effect it will have on voter turnout.  Will it decrease voter turnout particularly in swing-states such as Virginia and New Hampshire?  Conventional wisdom suggests that decreased voter turnout benefits Republicans.  However, other research suggests those most likely to stay home on Election Day are individuals who believe their candidate is likely to lose. Thus, enthusiasm of voting for the likely winner also impacts who votes. With such a close race, neither candidate appears to have an “enthusiasm” edge.

Given the state of the economy, this should have been an easy election for Republicans. That has not materialized.  Now, Hurricane Sandy is an intervening variable that has, truthfully, unknown consequences for Election Day.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Marie Eisenstein, Ph.D., who is an associate professor of political science for Indiana University Northwest, and who has provided these statements in her capacity as a faculty expert on presidential politics and elections. Indiana University and IU Northwest are public, non-profit institutions and do not support or endorse any political candidate, party or platform.   


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