Nobody Is Doing Well

This was originally written the weekend that Europe experiences the Eurovision Song Contest: an annual jamboree of kitsch awfulness. Since 1974, when the contest was won by an obscure Swedish group, singing in English, every entrant from the (now) 51 participating countries has the same goal. They all want to emulate the career path of ABBA, and not that of the more than three dozen subsequent winners, none of whom you have heard of*.It is the same in politics. When people challenge an incumbent President of their own party, it is always with the same dream. They want to be the next Ronald Reagan, not the next Eugene McCarthy, or even the next Teddy Kennedy, whose failed challenge to Jimmy Carter did little to enhance his already significant career in the Senate. Reagan narrowly failed to unseat a Republican President in 1976 and successfully unseated a Democrat four years later.

It is these intra-party challenges – invariably unsuccessful, though they are – that are often the first sign that a President is in trouble. Sitting post-war Presidents who have experienced significant challenges within their own party are Truman (in 1952), Johnson (1968), Ford, Carter, and Bush the Elder. None was re-elected. Truman and Johnson had both served more than one term and less than two, and both withdrew after disappointing primary results. Ford, Carter and Bush all lost in November.

Nobody, of course, is running against Barack Obama, but nobody is doing surprisingly well. Opponents have garnered around 40% of the vote in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arkansas. These are all states that voted heavily for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries and for John McCain in the general. Perhaps they are unrepresentative. But the fact that significant numbers of Democrats voted for ‘uncommitted,’ or even for a convicted felon, in preference to a President of their own party is interesting.

The economy has been weak throughout Obama’s tenure. The fact that it has been weak since somewhat before day one of his presidency reveals that it cannot possibly be entirely down to him, but after three and half years there has been less progress than a President would like to be able to point to.

Let us imagine a world in which Hillary Clinton had narrowly defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries and gone on to defeat John McCain. Would she have attracted a significant primary opponent? Common Sense suspects that she would, at least if we assume that she had no more or less success as a President to point to than Barack Obama does.

No Democrat who hopes to emulate Reagan and win a subsequent presidential election dared to challenge Barack Obama, because to do so would be to enrage the Black vote. Such a candidate would not only fail to be swept to power later, but would also probably attract a primary challenger to any post that he or she currently holds.

Despite the nervousness of potential challengers, it seems that significant numbers or Democratic voters are dissatisfied with the President. Even if this extends no further than the Appalachian region, this could pose problems for him in key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

*(Okay, you have probably heard of Celine Dion, but she already had a reputation in the French-speaking world, and she is Canadian, so her entry on behalf of Switzerland was dubious).

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

%d bloggers like this: