DUNN: Conventional wisdom that says Nobama

High unemployment numbers spell trouble for president

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Conventional wisdom says that President Obama is on the road to victory for re-election in 2012. Of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, Mr. Obama has 247 likely or safe electoral votes, compared to 180 for a Republican opponent, according to Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia. Mr. Obama would need only 23 more votes to win from the remaining 111 undecided.

However, the president might actually be on the road to defeat.

At present, the unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, which places him in the loser’s bracket, joining Presidents Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush, who had unemployment rates of 7.8, 7.5 and 7.4. By contrast, the winner’s bracket of Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush had unemployment rates of 7.2, 5.4 and 5.4. No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won a second term with an unemployment rate above 7.2.

For Mr. Obama, the picture is worse.

Of the 29 states he won in 2008, 11 have average unemployment rates at or above the national average of 9.1 percent, and 21 have average unemployment rates at or above 7.5 percent.

Of the 11 states that control 270 electoral votes, Mr. Obama won nine states whose average unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, and five of these states have an average unemployment rate of 10.4 percent.

Furthermore, of the seven so-called “battleground” states in 2008, Mr. Obama won four by 5 percent or less (North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Indiana), whose unemployment rates average 9.3, and he won three by 3 percent or less (North Carolina, Florida and Indiana), whose unemployment rates average 9.6 percent.

What about key voting groups?

As expected, in 2008 Mr. Obama ran very well among Jews and Hispanics, and better than expected among evangelicals. However, will Jewish voters, who intensely dislike his Mideast policies, and Hispanics, who have not received promised immigration reform, and evangelicals, who fervently dislike his policies on abortion, homosexuality and marriage, vote as they did in 2008?

The combination of unpopular policies and high unemployment could damage Mr. Obama’s re-election prospects. Of the six states with the highest percentages of Jewish voters - California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania - statewide unemployment rates are 11.9, 10.8, 8.7, 9.3, 7.9 and 7.5. With Republican governors in Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, these states could move into the Republican column.

The Hispanic populations of Colorado, 19.7 percent; Florida, 20.1 percent; Nevada, 24.4 percent; and New Mexico, 44 percent, may seriously jeopardize Mr. Obama’s candidacy. Their high unemployment rates of 8.8, 10.8, 12.5 and 9.7 percent, and even higher Hispanic unemployment, combined with Hispanic discontent about immigration reform could switch the allegiance of these states.

Democrats, considering North Carolina vital to victory, chose Charlotte as their 2012 national convention site. But as part of the historic Bible Belt, the Tar Heel State has a high concentration of evangelical voters, a growing Hispanic population and an unemployment rate of 9.7 percent.

What do Americans think about their country and president?

Are you better off now than 2008? According to theHill newspaper in a poll conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, one in three likely voters expect to be worse off when they go to the polls in November 2012. Is America moving in the wrong direction? According to RealClearPolitics.com, 60.5 percent answer “yes.” Do Americans approve of President Obama’s job performance? Gallup Poll reports that fewer than 50 percent approve, which places Mr. Obama in the loser’s bracket with Presidents Ford, Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Conventional wisdom might say the president is on the road to victory, but conventional wisdom might be wrong in 2012.

Charles W. Dunn is a professor of government at Regent University and author of “The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership” (Prentice-Hall, 2007).

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