Here’s a statistic that should encourage Obama supporters: since 1900, a president seeking a second consecutive term for his party has lost only once. That was in 1980, when Jimmy Carter’s one-term interruption of Republican rule was ended by Ronald Reagan. In every other instance, parties were able to hold on to the White House for at least two terms. Between 1932 and 1948, the Democrats won five elections in a row.
Ever since Obama entered office, Republicans have been trying to portray him as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. They even printed up “Welcome Back, Carter” t-shirts with his face on them. And it’s true that with unemployment at 8.1 percent, Obama is running for re-election under the worst economic circumstances of any president since Carter. But politics have changed so much since 1980 that he’s probably going to get that second term. And there’s absolutely no chance he’ll lose in a landslide.
Jimmy Carter went from winning 23 states in 1976 to winning only six states four years later. Voters simply are not that open-minded anymore. So many Americans have made their political leanings part of their personal identities that it’s impossible to imagine them changing colors, no matter how incompetent or unsuited for office their candidate is. The days of voting for “the party, not the man” are over, because, of course, the other party is run by a) Godless abortionists or b) heartless outsourcing capitalists, who will destroy America as we know it.
It’s astonishing how fluid partisan preferences were between 1960 and 1980. In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson won one of the biggest landslides ever, crushing Republican Barry Goldwater 61%-39% in the popular vote, and 486-52 in the Electoral College. Eight years later, Republican Richard Nixon defeated Democrat George McGovern 61%-38% and 520-17 (McGovern won only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia). Today, such a reversal is unimaginable. Partisan loyalties are as firm as they’ve been since the period after the Civil War, when Republicans won the White House after Ulysses S. Grant’s corrupt term in office by reminding veterans to “vote the way you shot,” and the Old Confederacy was nicknamed “the Solid South” because it always supported Democratic candidates.
If Obama had carried his record into a presidential election in the 1960s or 1970s, he probably would have lost. But in 2012, party loyalty will carry him to victory.