So why do I still think Obama will win in 2012? Because if the Ronald Reagan analogy may not exactly hold, the George W. Bush analogy just might. Unemployment wasn’t particularly high when Bush sought reelection in 2004, but Americans were in a sour mood nonetheless. Throughout the summer and fall of 2004, a clear majority of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. The numbers, in fact, were only marginally better then than they are now. So how did Bush win? For one thing, people’s feelings about him outpaced their feelings about the state of the country. Despite saying the country was on the wrong track, a slight majority of Americans approved of his job performance, and he was reelected by essentially that margin.
One explanation is that some portion of Americans simply liked Bush personally, even though they didn’t think America was faring very well on his watch. For some, it may have been his personal rectitude after Bill Clinton. For others, it was his religiosity. For others, it was the sense that he was a regular guy. Obama enjoys a similar dynamic. Maybe it is intelligence and eloquence. Maybe it is the fact that he, like Bush, seems comfortable in his own skin. Maybe it is his own reputation for rectitude, a reputation buttressed by the lack of scandals in his administration. Maybe it is a lingering pride in what his election says about America. This isn’t true for all presidents. Americans never thought very highly of Bill Clinton as a person even as they acknowledged that the country was thriving under his leadership. But for whatever reason, Americans seem a little softer on Obama than the hard economic realities would suggest.