The second reason Obama will likely win reelection is, oddly, the economy. Historically, when voters evaluate a president for reelection, they judge the economy not against some abstract standard but against the economy he inherited. That’s why Franklin Roosevelt could win 48 states in 1936 with the U.S. still mired in depression, and Ronald Reagan could win 49 in 1984, even though unemployment on Election Day was still 7.5 percent. Obama doesn’t need the economy to be booming in 2012 to win reelection, he just needs voters to feel that it is better than it was when he took office and heading in the right direction. If that’s the case, and most economists seem to think it will be, Republicans won’t get very far by harping on the deficit. In 1984, you may remember, a presidential candidate told voters to ignore the nation’s nascent economic recovery and focus instead of the country’s swelling debt. His name was Walter Mondale.
Finally, Obama’s third big advantage is his opposition: the GOP. The party has had great success in mobilizing older white conservatives, who weren’t particularly fond of Obama in the first place, and in a midterm like this one, in which younger and minority voters don’t turn out, their rage will loom large. But this very short-term success is preventing the GOP from grappling with its deeper problems attracting the Hispanic and “Millennial” generation voters who tilted heavily to the Democrats in 2008 and will comprise an even larger share of the electorate in 2012. As Schwarzenegger suggests, a GOP victory this fall will likely exacerbate the problem. With the Tea Party shaping the congressional GOP, the party’s immigration views will further alienate Hispanics.