Over at The Weekly Standard, Jay Cost makes the case that President Obama’s support amongst Democrats is more like that of Michael Dukakis than Jimmy Carter.
Using Gallup Poll data, Cost argues that Obama, unlike Carter, has maintained his support amongst Democrats by his third year in office. By contrast, Carter’s support amongst Democrats had fallen by 20 points by 1979. Of course, Carter would have Ted Kennedy with whom to contend. Cost notes that the character of the Democratic Party has changed over the past three decades. Whereas in 1979, the “Northern/liberal faction” was still an insurgent force in the Democratic Party, today it is the Democratic mainstream. Thus Obama need not worry about a Ted Kennedy like figure lurking in the shadows. But Cost thinks Obama should worry about another Massachusetts liberal – Michael Dukakis.
Cost then shows the data. In 1988, Dukakis got 46% of the popular vote, earning the support of 82% of Democrats and 42% of Independents. In the latest Gallup Poll, President Obama has the support of 46% of the electorate with 82% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans. Cost concludes:
These are some very eerie similarities – Dukakis, unlike Carter, was able to hold together his party coalition. He lost the 1988 election because Republicans were firmly united behind George Bush, and independents broke decisively toward the GOP.
This is roughly how the current political landscape appears, which leads me to conclude if the election were held today, and the GOP nominated a reasonably attractive candidate, Obama would do about as well in the popular vote as Dukakis did. Given the geographical polarization of the electorate (i.e. the red state-blue state divide), Obama would surely capture more than the 111 electoral votes Dukakis carried. Even so, it would be a sizeable Republican victory. Not quite as smashing as Reagan’s victory in 1980, but still substantial.
I am not sure if the former Massachusetts Democratic Governor is a reliable yard stick by which to measure Obama’s chances at re-election. First, unlike Dukakis, Obama is the sitting President. Second, Republicans and Independents stood behind Bush because he was carrying the legacy of Ronald Reagan. I remember the refrain back then, “Reagan could have been elected to a third-term.” Third, the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress. Fourth, Obama’s approval numbers amongst Republicans were actually double that of Dukakis (15% to 7.5%). So there are still a few Obamacons out there.
Finally, let’s not forget that Obama is the first Black President. Of course, that shouldn’t matter. But it does. As sure as the sun sets in the west, we will be told by the liberal intelligentsia that not re-electing Obama would take the country back to Jim Crow and thus constitute an act of racism. The electorate might have the good sense to reject such nonsense. After all, Obama should be judged by his performance in office and second term cannot be treated like an entitlement. But if enough white, liberal guilt is mobilized it could bestow Obama with four more years. A critical mass of the American electorate have a lot more vested in Barack Obama than they ever did with Michael Dukakis.