The 2004 And 2012 Elections: A Comparison
At least up until this point, the 2012 Presidential race has been strikingly reminiscent of the 2004 Presidential election, when President George W. Bush won a second term against Senator John Kerry. Like President Bush, President Obama figures to benefit from the fact that incumbent Presidents are usually re-elected. Incumbents benefit from the fact that the public is already familiar with them, as opposed to an untested alternative. Incumbents are also privy to a wide range of knowledge available to them, simply as a result of experience as commander-in-chief. This allows them to control the national conversation and appear more “presidential” than their opponents.
In addition, like the 2004 Presidential election, so far the character of the challenger has also defined the 2012 election. In 2004, President Bush successfully branded Senator Kerry, whether fairly or not, as a French-loving flip-flopper. Brutal ads featuring Kerry windsurfing played perfectly into President Bush’s narrative of Kerry as an out-of-touch liberal. Bush also viciously attacked Senator Kerry’s record of serving in Vietnam. These “swift boat” attack ads were widely seen as one of the primary reasons for Senator Kerry’s defeat.
Eight years later, President Obama’s campaign is brutally savaging Mitt Romney as an aloof elitist. President Obama has gained traction by hammering the Romney campaign for not releasing years of tax returns, a decades-long tradition emulated by candidates running for President. There is now widespread speculation that Romney paid little to no taxes for years due to loopholes, of which the rich in this country are able to take advantage. Proof has already surfaced that Governor Romney has utilized offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands and owns a Swiss bank account. In addition, the Obama campaign has plenty of footage of Mitt Romney contradicting himself on a litany of different issues. After all, this is a man who has both described himself as “severely conservative” but also ran to the left of Ted Kennedy in a Massachusetts senate race years ago.
What George W. Bush and Barack Obama have in common is that they possessed only middling poll numbers leading up to their re-election races, and faced significant chances of defeat. The response of both campaigns to this fact has been to attack their opponents rather than to run on a platform of prior accomplishments. When President Bush faced re-election, the country was mired in a hopeless and unpopular conflict in Iraq. While President Bush did not truly become one of the nation’s most unpopular presidents until well into his second term, he was definitely not exceedingly popular in the days leading up to November of 2004. Likewise, President Obama has not managed to completely turn around the horrid economic conditions that he inherited. Due to his own mediocre favorability ratings, Obama has chosen instead to draw a stark contrast between himself and the caricature his campaign has created of Governor Romney.
Mitt Romney and John Kerry are also parallels in many ways. Both candidates are extremely flawed and are nobody’s idea of the perfect President. Neither man is able to give a rousing speech, and both have ties to France, the persistent nemesis of the American Right. Both Kerry and Romney have also been prone to flip-flopping, one of the cardinal sins in politics. Both men are also exceedingly wealthy and hail from the East Coast. This brand of politician just does not appeal to middle America, and neither man represents a strong challenger to the presidency, even against a weakened incumbent.
This election will not be a landslide, but neither does it figure to be a nail-biter like the controversial 2000 Presidential election. President Obama has consistently enjoyed a relatively healthy lead in the Electoral College, which, of course, trumps the popular vote in terms of importance in this country. Almost every swing state up for grabs this year is a state that President Obama won four years ago. Unless Governor Romney can flip virtually every single one of those states, President Obama will reach the necessary threshold for an electoral victory.
The likeliest explanation for the success of incumbent presidents is that Americans realize that an agenda cannot be completed in just four years. It takes a full eight to fully realize the vision of a President. President Bush’s eight years revealed that he was truly a failure. In President Obama’s short four years, his policies have improved the nation, but there is still much more left for him to do. If things are still not any better in another four years, then maybe President Obama’s critics are correct. In all likelihood, we will be able to find out.