You have a better chance of predicting the Final Four in 2012 than Obama’s electoral fate – but that doesn’t stop anyone from trying.Gallup kickstarted the madness releasing a report detailing president Obama’s approval level in all 50 states and how that explains his overall good look for 2012. The tables and charts are nice but they lead to the same conclusion that any smart political analyst can already tell you: for all the hoopla and crooked speculation on the electoral map in 2012, much hasn’t changed from 2008.
Obama is still extremely popular in the Northeast getting approval ratings above the fifties in Maryland, Massachusetts and New York. His home state of Hawaii and the ever reliably Democratic Washington, D.C.approve of him at 65 and 84 respectively – which is expected given the close connection to each. And equally non-shocking: his approval numbers are the worst in blood red states like Utah, Idaho and Wyoming where his approval numbers are below 35 percent. There is no real news in showing that Obama remains popular in blue states and hated in red states, we knew that in 2007. Nor is it groundbreaking to point out that Obama’s approval ratings have dropped 11 percent from 2009 to 2010 because the economy is lousy and his healthcare bill infuriated millions.
What is worth noting from the report however is Obama’s decline in key states, both red and blue that will affect campaign strategy in the coming year. Obama’s approval numbers have dropped by as much as 15 points in places like Vermont and New Hampshire, New England states that went for him in 2008 but are much less enthusiastic about him right now. In fact president Obama’s average national approval rating in 2010 was 47 percent. In 12 states his approval rating was above the average, in 18 states it was below, and in 20 states he was within 3 points +/- his average. Rust Belt states Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota fall into this ‘average to swing’ range which means that the president will again be spending time shoring up his base in the Midwest in 2012.
The real question is what in practical terms does any of this state data mean heading into the next year? Real analysis of Obama’s re-election chances are often obscured by the fact that he is such a polarizing figure in American politics. There is a 68 point approval gap between Democrats and Republicans on Obama’s job performance – the largest gap in the history of presidential polling since President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Either analysts are screaming that he was a one termer from the moment that he stepped into office or that in 2012 he’ll be taking out all the newcomers and they won’t know how he did it.
These state numbers tell a different and altogether less sexy story.
Despite an ongoing war, a recession that has dragged on near a decade … and a black president, the electoral map has not changed significantly. Obama’s approval ratings, nationally, are equal to or above Reagan, Carter and Clinton. His approval ratings in key states are actually equal to or above Clinton and Bush’s numbers.
While the presidential elections of 1996, 2000 and 2004 were basically fought in about 10 ‘swing’ states, 2012 – like 2008 – will be a 50 state campaign, which suits Obama just fine. Republicans have realistic chances at states Pennsylvania and Ohio where the recession has been going on since 2002 and where the population is getting older, whiter and smaller. On the other hand Obama has shockingly high 45 and 46 percent approval rating in Texas and Georgia respectively, meaning high turnout in cities like Atlanta orSavannah could turn Red states purple similar to what Democrats did in Virginia in 2008.
With 20 states snuggled within the margin of error of President Obama’s national average we should fully expect a long and expensive 2012 campaign that will likely hit the 1 billion dollar mark that many people have been projecting.
And while for the coming months you’ll still see more reports from political outlets filing out their predictions and setting up their pools for the upcoming election let’s remember one thing: it’s all speculation. With the GOP primaries still a year away the other team hasn’t even stepped onto the court, yet.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “Obama’s Place in the 2012 Election Bracket is the Real March Madness.“