Life After Obama: Democrats Are Struggling for Options

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Megan McArdle, author of The Up Side of Down, recently theorized that Democrats are likely to lose the 2016 election, for the simple reason that “voters just get tired after eight years.” She points out that, “Since the Civil War, only two Democratic presidents have been succeeded by another Democrat. Both of them — FDR and JFK — accomplished this by dying in office.”

Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight already makes a neat and tidy counter argument to McArdle’s premise, pointing out that he feels she’s picked over the available information in a biased manner in order to compile data to support the conclusion that there’s a 75 percent likelihood of Republicans taking the presidency in 2016. As he points out, the two-party system as it’s known today has only produced eleven or twelve elections with an incumbent leaving office after eight years — as is the case with President Barack Obama. Looking at a variety of inclusive and exclusive sets of data, the numbers range from three out of eleven to 6 out of twelve, so between 36 and 50 percent likelihood that incumbents are elected — a far cry from 75 percent, and even still excluding important outside information that goes beyond statistics.

But what the various arguments get right — McArdle’s, Silver’s, and the other resultant ruckuses — is that Democrats have a post-Obama party to form, and there’s bound to be hurdles ahead given dissatisfaction with the present administration. True, Obama’s polling averages aren’t really so unusually bad when compared to other presidents in their second term around this time. Should Hillary Clinton decide to run, well, the problems will be present, but predictable. It’s if she chooses not to run for presidential office that things get rather out of hand for the Democratic party, or at least more out of hand.

If the presidential primaries were held tomorrow, Gallup shows a cluster of four — as shown below — at the top of Republican and Republican leaning independents lists. These include Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Governor Rick Perry (R-Tex.), and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.). Of the four, Mike Huckabee seems to have a slight edge, but all four are relatively big names that lend a degree of flexibility to the Republican party. They have options to work with.

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However, when you look at the Democratic party, it’s clear that Mrs. Clinton would take the party easily, and even with controversy surrounding the Benghazi scandal, her age, and her health, it’s likely that she’d be able to rally a strong campaign and a strong body of support. But if she weren’t on the list of hopefuls, the list would be limited to Vice President Joe Biden, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The problem with this list is two-fold. The first is that none other than current VP Joe Biden has anywhere near to comparable favorability polls, according to Gallup. Clinton holds 84 percent favorability from Democrats and Independents leaning democratic, while Biden manages 65 percent, Cuomo 39 percent, Warren 38 percent, and O’Malley 69 percent. The last three have 29, 39, and 69 percent respectively, reporting that they’ve never heard of them. 

The second problem is that Biden may be competitive when looked at among Democratic candidates, but when compared to Republican candidates in Gallup‘s polls, he’s at the bottom. In fact, save for Clinton, who is clearly well above the rest in this particular measure of favorablility, Republicans hands down take the next six slots. Basically, Clinton may be extremely competitive as a candidate, but sans Hillary, Democrats have an unfortunate set of options. Moving forward at least, they’ll need to be careful about putting all their eggs in one basket; it may tip off the table before all is said and done.

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It’s also important to note that while Gallup‘s comparative look at candidates yields high numbers for Clinton, overall she’s been suffering from decreased popularity, and when looked at on her own, she’s seen her fair share of dips. She’s certainly far from as sure thing, despite what the above table shows, and when elections draw closer it’s likely that the strong competitors will be more visible. That said, a timeline of approval ratings — published by Pew Research – shows a strong pattern for Mrs. Clinton when it comes to rebounding approval. She’s seen four very distinct reversals over the course of her time in office, and her ability to recover and rise back up in public opinion has been impressive. Yet that may in part be due to the fact that she’s gone in and out of office, so the public is given a short break before she’s reintroduced.

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