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   Obama’s Advantage

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Parent

News Date

2/10/2011 11:00 am

Author

Alan I. Abramowitz

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Analysis

Database Record

Entered 2/12/2011, Updated 2/12/2011

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The 2012 presidential election is still more than 20 months away. While the early maneuvering for the Republican presidential nomination is already underway, the identity of President Obama’s GOP challenger won’t be known for more than a year. Economic trends will have a major impact on the President’s reelection chances and unpredictable events, such as the recent political turmoil in Egypt, could also affect the public’s evaluation of the President’s performance. But even without knowing what condition the economy will be in, whether a major international crisis will erupt, or who will win the Republican nomination, one crucial determinant of the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is already known. Barack Obama will be seeking reelection as a first term incumbent and first term incumbents rarely lose. In the past hundred years, there have been ten presidential elections in which an incumbent president was seeking a second term in the White House for his party with the most recent being 2004. The key distinction here is the number of terms the incumbent’s party has been in office, not the number of terms the individual incumbent has been in office. Incumbent party candidates have won nine of those ten first term elections. Jimmy Carter in 1980 was the only first term incumbent party candidate in the past century to lose and it took a devastating combination of recession, inflation, and public frustration over the seemingly endless Iran hostage crisis to bring him down. In contrast to first term incumbents, second or later term incumbents have had a much harder time winning reelection. In the past century, eight incumbents have sought a third or later term in the White House. Four of them won while four lost, including the most recent second term incumbent—George H.W. Bush in 1992. And non-incumbents seeking a third or later term for their party have fared even worse. Of the seven non-incumbents seeking a third or later term in the W


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