Many political junkies are following the democratic primaries with much interest. I have watched a few of the debates, but I donít think they matter. First of all, I think Howard Dean will win the Democratic primary by a large margin. I expect Dean will move to the center after winning the primary. I do not underestimate him, I believe Dean is as canny a politician as Bill Clinton. While he lacks Clintonís charisma, he also appears to have more self-control. So he is probably the best chance the Democrats have in 2004.
Despite my respect for Deanís abilities, I also donít think it matters who the Democrats put up against Bush. I have a theory that any presidential candidate with a job approval rating above 47% in the third year of his first term will win reelection barring vary abnormal circumstances. I have drawn my hypothetical line of reelection in this chart.
Since 1963 (the earliest data that I reviewed), six presidents have had job approval ratings above 47% in the third year of their first term. Our current president is one of these, so there are five historical examples from which to learn. Three of them (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton) were easily reelected by very large margins. JFK would probably have been reelected as well, but he was assassinated before he could be reelected. George H.W. Bush was the only president with a high job approval rating to lose reelection. Why?
The common wisdom (and Bill Clinton) says ďIt was the economy, stupid.Ē Thus, if the economy is poor in 2004, Howard Dean should win. Otherwise, President W. Bush will be reelected. The common wisdom is wrong. While the economy was a factor in the defeat of Bush, Sr., it was not the only factor. In my opinion, the most important factor in the Bush/Clinton election was Ross Perot. Studies have shown that Perot voters disproportionately drew from Republican voters and the split gave Clinton the victory. To a lesser extent, Ralph Nader repeated this circumstance and probably cost Gore the election in 2000.
Unless the Republican vote is somehow split in 2004, I expect George W. Bush to easily win reelection even if the economy goes into another recession. The economy is important, but its importance in national elections is overstated.