Ed’s morning post paints a bleak picture of President Obama’s reelection prospects, based on the state of the economy and foreign affairs. It is based on a determinist view of political outcomes: that the state of the economy and global unrest dictate election results. Under this theory, an extremely weak economy and foreign unrest dooms Obama to likely defeat.
However, there is now a debate in political science circles that challenges this traditional view of political outcomes. (The determinist view of elections has largely been an academic one.) There is a growing sense among academics that what political operatives and the media have longed believed may be true, if more difficult to quantify: viz., how the game — the campaign itself — is played matters greatly to the outcome. Under this view, everything from gaffes to the quality of the candidate’s staff influences an election’s results.
I doubt that Ed, as a former superb campaign operative, would dispute this. It seems fairly obvious. But where it gets interesting is when one considers how much the idiosyncrasies of an individual campaign cycle can overcome the determinist forces of, say, the economy. At this point in the race — way too early to make any judgments, but still: Obama leads Mitt Romney. Obama is much more popular than Romney — despite the bleak factors Ed cites on the economy and foreign affairs.
How will this all play out? Which set of factors will determine the election’s outcome? I think that if unemployment is below 8 percent, Obama will be reelected, but if it rises again to 8.5 percent, the economy will deliver Mitt Romney as our next president. If there is a foreign policy crisis, that, too, could dictate the election results, although here it is much harder to say to whose benefit. But if we are still muddling along with uncertainty, then the campaign itself will make all the difference.