LAWRENCEVILLE – If the nation’s political class and many an average Joe or Jane have already written off President Obama’s re-election chances less than a year from now, owing largely to an economy that can’t seem to pull itself up off the floor, one leading Democratic pollster will tell them they’re badly mistaken.
Mark Mellman, who’s directed polling operations for dozens of U.S. Senate, Congressional, gubernatorial and other candidates, appeared to borrow from the old Mark Twain riff here tonight that turns on the author’s death being greatly exaggerated – when the author was still alive, of course.
In Mellman’s version, it’s the president’s chances at a second term that are a long way from sunk.
“He’s far from toast,” Mellman told an audience of several dozen attending his talk for The Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University here. “In fact, the odds are better than even” that Obama will come away with a victory next November against whichever Republican challenger happens to emerge from the GOP’s topsy-turvy primary.
In a rat-a-tat manner of speaking likely picked up from trying to get a word in edgewise in verbal cage matches with the likes of Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly, Mellman ran down some pillars holding up what he sees as built-in “structural” advantages enjoyed by Obama.
First off, he said, history’s on the side of the president who made his own history as the nation’s first African-American commander in chief.
In the past 100 years, only Jimmy Carter has failed to win a second term when his party’s held the White house for fewer than two terms.
The pollster explains the phenomenon this way: “The American public has a fundamental desire to give people a second chance, or in this case a two-term chance.”
And he says 60 percent of voters polled believe Obama inherited the financial malaise afflicting the country; just 40 percent believe he created it.
“So they believe it was a long time being created and it’ll take a long time to solve,” he said. “There is a certain predilection the public has to give a president a chance to finish what he’s started.”
Among other structural advantages, Mellman also tackled the unemployment rate, saying that’s never been a determining factor when the record is examined over the decades.
But he says an economic indicator rarely cited can be a factor and that’s the disposable income Americans have in their wallets.
If that drops as it did in the third quarter of this year, that could spell trouble. Because while it isn’t often talked about in the media, Americans feel it at the gas pumps, the grocery stores and elsewhere and pin the blame squarely on the president’s shoulders. Though Mellman says forecasts are for that income to rise and that would help the president.
He didn’t mention the partisan wrestling match going on now in Washington over the cut in the payroll tax the Obama administration is pushing. And while both parties say they’re for it, the White House wants millionaires to pick up the cost while Republicans want cuts in spending.
He says Obama also enjoys significant leads among voters in a kind of popularity polling, where the president scores far better than Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich or any of the other leading contenders for the GOP nomination.
Among other structural advantages, as Mellman sees it, is an edge in party registration nationally that’ll likely give the president several points more than Republicans will enjoy there. Add to that a loyal base of African-Americans, Latinos and Jewish voters and Obama is staked a good lead in voters while only having to pick up 40 percent of white voters.
There were lots of other facts and figures Mellman drew from tonight, including the magic number of electoral college votes – 270 – the victor needs to be awarded the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Last time out, Obama racked up 359. So the president could lose a number of key battleground states that some Democratic party pessimists are already writing off – the likes of Florida, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina – and still win the election if he wins all the others he took.
Ok, added Mellman, go ahead and throw Virginia into the loss column. That’d still leave the president with 273 electoral college votes, three more than necessary. Or, as Mellman put it, winning with a margin so slim the pollster called it “a knife’s edge.” That would make it rough on Democratic nerves but still a win.
All this and more, much more, from a pollster who readily concedes his heart lies with the Democrats; though he says his head tells him he’s right on.
“This represents the essence of what we try to do at the Rebovich Institute, merging practical politics with real analysis,” said Ben Dworkin, the institute’s director.
Pollster Mellman would surely get an argument from a Republican who would no doubt go about balancing the scales of argument. But this wasn’t a presidential debate. Just a view from a top pollster’s perch who happens to be a Democrat.
And if a day or a week can be an eternity in politics, eleven months is several light years off. And everybody will have to wait till then to see whether Mellman’s statistics-bound crystal ball, or anyone else’s for that matter, is borne out.