The 2012 presidential race is well underway, so this is a good time to take stock of where we are and plot out what each party has to do in order to win in November. I will revisit this at least one more time before the fall as the 2012 election landscape continues to take shape.
Let’s look at the Republican side first. Ironically, for a party that has had a surplus of indignation and passion since 2010, the GOP seems to lack enthusiasm today. Much of the campaign seems to be largely based on the economy. But from where we sit, at least as of this writing, the economy could wither somewhat as an issue.
Republicans are going to need plenty of back up. It’s going to be hard for the party’s candidates to focus on any one international hotspot because the one thing they don’t want to run on is sending troops to another part of the globe. The Osama bin Laden carpet has been pulled out from under them.
To illustrate the importance of the national security issue for Republicans in 2004, John Kerry was given higher marks than George W. Bush for his ability to handle nine of the top ten issues that year. On national security, however, Bush outscored Kerry 67 percent to 24 percent. It’s an advantage the GOP simply will not have in 2012.
Republicans must be cautious on the deficit as well. First of all, they like government spending just as much as the next guy. And secondly, where Republicans have promoted spending cuts they have also created serious confrontations. Cases in point: Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. It’s created a backlash and level of intensity against the GOP among unions and liberals that President Obama and Democrats couldn’t have done by themselves.
Another problem for the GOP is that 12 of the battleground states, which were won by Obama in 2008 but swung back to Republicans in 2010, appear to be moving toward the Democrats once again. Republicans also have a serious problem with Hispanic voters. The president’s numbers are rising among Hispanics and Republicans simply aren’t making any gains.
Now let’s turn to the Democrats. There is no doubt that President Obama is wounded and that his first term has been characterized by weakness. However, as of this writing, his approval rating is near 50 percent. When he’s matched up against any of his potential GOP challengers, his numbers hover just under 50 percent.
Democrats are also leading on the congressional generic ballot, but the party is vulnerable on the economy. Democrats appear to favor what some perceive as the “new haves” (i.e. those who have government pensions, early retirement or government healthcare), versus the “new have-nots” (i.e. middle class taxpayers). To middle class taxpayers, it’s hard to make the case that the party is not beholden to beneficiaries against the interests of taxpayers who do not have such entitlements.
So, with all that in mind, what does each party have to do to win? The Republicans need a very clear and specific vision. If their economic program is based on tax cuts and reduced spending, then how does that make my world better? If that frees up capital for investment then they need to spell out where that investment goes.
What is the next economy? Who will lead it? And how do those cuts translate into improvements for us all? In other words, it is not enough to empower investors without the government giving direction to where those investments might go.
Republicans are also going to have to show specifically how our damaged infrastructure will be repaired. They will have to demonstrate how it makes the world safer to have our foreign policy based on military and moral strength.
And for the Democrats, how will they make cuts and seriously battle their union friends? If tax loopholes are to remove favoritism then what are the specific tax incentives that will create the jobs of the future? “Innovation” and “technology” are great buzzwords, but what do they mean for voters in Ohio?
Finally, what about community colleges—the front line in the battle for America’s future? The president has laid this out, but it has to be a focal point for the campaign because community colleges are perhaps only three degrees of separation from every American voter.
John Zogby is a veteran pollster and author of “The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.”