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Midterm poll: Obama down, but not out

world Updated: Nov 03, 2010 01:50 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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Back in 1994, president Bill Clinton took off on a tour of Asia soon after a resounding defeat in a congressional election in the second year of his first term. Barack Obama, facing a similar fate, will also leave for Asia shortly.

Obama’s Democratic party is certain to lose the congressional elections — polling for which began Tuesday morning here with results expected later in the night — most definitely the House, but probably not the Senate.

But no one is writing him off for a second shot at presidency in 2012 as there is precedence — among both Democrats and Republicans — of presidents bouncing back from election defeats to win second terms.

The big question now is whether Obama, like Clinton, will tone down his agenda to be able to work with a House dominated by Republicans? Will he take to deal-making like Clinton?

The Democrats had lost 57 House seats in 1994. But Clinton went on to become the first Democratic president to win a second term after Harry Truman, almost after 50 years. Republican president Ronald Reagan did the same in 1984. He, in fact, was in a situation not very different from Obama’s.

The US economy was in terrible state, just as now. Unemployment had peaked to 10.8% in 1982, the second year of Reagan’s presidency, and his popularity ratings were slumping. The Republicans lost 27 House seats. But two years later, Reagan was on a roll as the economy improved and unemployment shrank to 7.2%. He trounced his Democratic challenger Walter Mondale to win a second term.

The Democrats are likely to lose 52 House seats, according to NYT’s FiveThirtyEight blog site, which predicted the 2008 presidential election most accurately, just two short of reversal in 1994. They might hold on to the Senate, the blog said, but with reduced majority — from 51-49 to 52-48.

Most forecasts have been on the same lines. But that might not necessarily mean the end of the road for the president, despite the fact that his personal popularity has been steadily declining from a high of 70% at the time of his election.

A recent PEW research centre study showed dismal popularity ratings around mid-term elections isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, in fact, the reverse can be true. Democrat president Jimmy Carter and Republican George H Bush both scored highly around their mid-term polls but failed to win second terms. Reagan and Clinton, on the other hand, did.

No wonder then that the word being widely used to describe the likely outcome for Obama is “rebuke”, not “end of the road” or “rejection”, much as his critics would like to. Graphics : Writing on the wall