Faculty panel analyzes election, Obama’s lead

BY ALANNA KOEHLER ’15
Campus Life Editor

Entitled “The 2012 Presidential Election: Money, Ideology, and Personality,” Thursday’s panel-based Common Hour served as a forum for discussion about the upcoming presidential election. Moderated by G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, panelists Stephen Medvic and Robert Friedrich, associate professors of government, explained key factors of the upcoming presidential election, citing numerous statistics and voicing their professional analyses and predictions.

The discussion analyzed issues concerning the effect of the economy, the job market, campaign strategies, money spent, partisan issues, undecided and uninformed voters, and swing states on the effectiveness of the campaigns of Democratic candidate President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney. The panel wasted no time diving into its first, most stressed topic: the economy.

Madonna explained that, from an economic standpoint and according to many forecasting models, Obama should be behind in the race and announced the panelists would spend the remainder of the Common Hour trying to figure out why Obama is, in fact, actually ahead of opponent Romney.

“If you look at the broad sweep of presidential elections, to borrow the phrase from the Clinton campaign in 1992, ‘it is the economy, stupid,’” Friedrich said. “That’s the single best predictor of how an election is going to come out.”

Friedrich’s statement makes Obama’s lead all the more surprising, but Madonna was quick to put the argument into perspective at the opening of the discussion.

“If Obama wins, it’s in spite of the economy and because of a good campaign,” Madonna said. “If Romney wins, it’s because of the economy and despite a bad campaign.”

Medvic took the time to explain Madonna’s statement, pointing out the highs of Obama’s campaign and the most damning elements of
Romney’s.

“Part of the problem is Romney himself,” Medvic said. “He’s just having a very difficult time making connections with average voters.”

Medvic did not explicitly attribute this to Romney’s infamous ‘47 percent’ speech, but instead explained it was due to the image of Romney the Obama campaign developed and has been promoting, as well as Romney’s own abilities as a candidate before moving on to his next point.

“Part of the problem is [Romney’s] campaign, the strategy behind his campaign and the message of his campaign,” Medvic said. “The message is muddled to say the least. They’ve talked about just about everything except what they should be talking about, which is jobs.”

The third part of the problem with Romney’s campaign, according to Medvic, is the Republican Party.

“[Romney] can’t be himself,” Medvic said. “He’s a moderate. Let’s face it, he’s a Massachusetts moderate Republican, and he can’t really run that way because of the conservative base within the Republican Party.”

Medvic then referenced Anne Romney, the governor’s wife, and her recent comments in a radio interview, in which she explained to Republican and conservative critics how difficult the campaign is and challenged those who thought otherwise to give it a try.

Medvic deemed such critics and opponents a detriment to Romney’s campaign, as they are making it more difficult for him to run successfully against Obama, who, on the other hand, is not experiencing quite the same issues.

“[Obama] has a pretty good campaign by and large,” Medvic said. “The Obama people have had a strategy that’s been clear for two years, and they’ve been following that strategy pretty determinedly.”

Part of this strategy was not allowing Romney to claim himself a job creator by painting a negative portrait of him after the primary season when he was low on funds, according to Medvic.

“The Obama campaign defined Romney before he could define himself,” Madonna clarified.

Another slight advantage Obama has is his access to funds, despite Romney’s reputation of being quite wealthy. Romney is relying on money from outside groups, which is used for different promotions in a campaign than a candidate’s own money.

“Obama has more cash on hand right now and is able to be a little more flexible with it than Romney’s able to be by relying on outside money,” Medvic said.

However, Madonna put this statement into perspective, as well.

“In the end, the bottom line here is money’s not probably going to make a difference in the outcome,” Madonna said.

However, the economy certainly should make a difference. Solid campaign or not, Obama still does not sit well from an economic standpoint, and Friedrich supplied one illustration as to why. He explained that, according to writer and statistician Nate Silver’s monthly job number model, the higher the number of jobs created monthly, the better the incumbent party will perform. Silver predicts a minimum monthly job number of 151,000 will be necessary for Obama to win reelection, but his current numbers only figure to around 139,000 jobs.

“Obama, in terms of that demonstrated relationship between job growth and performance in the election, is a bit short,” Friedrich said.

However, with two more sets of numbers to be considered before the election, there is still hope for Obama to hit the job-number quota. Medvic also highlighted that, whether Obama reaches the quota or not, he has yet another factor going for him.

“When you ask people who is to blame for the economy — lots of polls have been asking this question and the last one was about two weeks ago — the numbers were still 54 percent blaming George W. Bush for the economic conditions that we’re facing,” Medvic said. “So whether you think Obama’s done a good job or not, he’s been kind of insulated a little bit from some criticism because people, I think, recognize it was a very deep, deep recession that he found himself in, and maybe three to four years is not quite enough to dig out of that.”

So while Friedrich maintained many voters think Romney would be better fit to handle the deficit than Obama, Medvic noted how helpful it is for Obama that a majority of voters do not consider the recession to be his fault.

In the end, despite all the nuances and the millions of dollars that have been trying to sway the small percentage of undecided voters in the month leading up to the election (something Friedrich discussed extensively), it is all a number game.

“There’s one number and only one number in presidential politics that matters, and that’s 270,” Madonna said. “Got to get to that electoral vote. Nothing else. That’s what matters. Well, if we take a look at this, about 38 to 40 states don’t matter. So it comes down, as you know, to a handful of states.”

The swing states this year include New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. According to the panel, the states that appear to matter the most happen to be Ohio, Florida, and, in some degree for this race, Wisconsin. This is a combination that could, very realistically, lead to a victory for Obama.

“The problem for Romney is Ohio is looking more and more difficult for him to win,” Medvic said. “If you give Obama Wisconsin and Ohio, it is virtually impossible [for Romney to win]. In fact, it may be enough to get [Obama] to 270. It would be very, very close. No matter what the national polls say, if you look state-to-state, Obama’s in a much better position.”

However, there is still more to come, including Wednesday’s debate, which, in such a tight race, could be a deal-breaker.

“The debate next Wednesday is critical,” Medvic said. “There are a handful of times in recent elections, just a handful, when a candidate has been in the position Romney’s in now but moved ahead to actually end up winning because of the result of a debate.”

“It could still be a Romney victory,” Madonna added. “[It’s] looking more difficult, but he could still win.”

At the end of the discussion, the panel accepted questions from the student body, addressing issues such as the voter ID laws and foreign policy. The panel considered numerous sides of the issues presented throughout, making arguments for and against both campaigns, only to reach one general consensus.

“The race is not over,” Medvic said. “It is still very, very close.”

Questions? Email Alanna at akoehler@fandm.edu.

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