The PoliBlog

The Collective
Sunday, June 15, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the Politico: Many historians see little chance for McCain1

“It is one of the worst political environments for the party in power since World War II,” added Alan Abramowitz, a professor of public opinion and the presidency at Emory University. His forecasting model — which factors in gross domestic product, whether a party has completed two terms in the White House and net presidential approval rating — gives McCain about the same odds as Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Carter in 1980 — both of whom were handily defeated in elections that returned the presidency to the previously out-of-power party. “It would be a pretty stunning upset if McCain won,” Abramowitz said.


the biggest obstacle in McCain’s path may be running in the same party as the most unpopular president America has had since at least the advent of modern polling. Only Harry Truman and Nixon — both of whom were dogged by unpopular wars abroad and political scandals at home — have been nearly as unpopular in their last year in office, and both men’s parties lost the presidency in the following election.

This is pretty much what I have been trying to point out in a variety of posts and comments in the last several weeks/months: the fundamentals of the race are such that it is difficult to see a McCain win. It is hardly impossible, but it can’t be considered likely, barring a substantial change in the environment in which this campaign is nested.

Sphere: Related Content

  1. Actually, most (if not all) of the professors noted in the piece are political scientists, not historians. For some reason, the press has a hard time differentiating between the two fields of study []
Previous Related Posts

Filed under: 2008 Campaign, US Politics | |


  • el
  • pt
    1. Well, the distinction between history and political science can be more of a gray foggy region than an abrupt wall. . .

      Though I agree with the historical analysis, and really always have, it’s the application of the historical model that I’ve had a hard time with.

      I don’t question the historical models. All things being equal, the incumbent party has zero chance of winning in the current political climate, but I don’t think all things are equal; a lot has changed since Carter and Stevensen. The media and the flow of information to the electorate is completely different; the parties do not stand for the same things now that they did then; and the candidates themselves both present unique problems in terms of electability.

      In that they were both Democrats and both from Illinois, I see similarity between Obama and Stevensen, but that’s where the similarity ends; and all I can find in common between Carter and McCain (besides incumbency) is their status as human beings.

      I’m probably going to draw a lot of fire for going here, but I would not be honest if I didn’t. We have a first in Obama as the first African American to make it this far in the electoral process. I am not sure how race will play out in this election; I like to think that it won’t be an issue, but I know better. Pretending it isn’t a factor is ignoring the fact that he is indeed a first; to what degree America will, when the rubber meets the road in November, actually vote in the “colorless” society we think we live in, I’m really not sure; and what people say on the matter now (we are a reflexively politically correct people when our names, faces, jobs, and standing in the community are at stake)and how they will vote, when it is totally private and anonymous (that is, what we really believe in the privacy of our own minds), I’m also not sure; the historical models I’ve seen do not address this. I do know that there is a disproportional absence of African-Americans in high places in our country, and I’m not inclined to believe that this has come about by chance. There is a reason. We may or may not like whatever that reason is, and may argue about what that reason is, but there is a reason, of that I am quite certain; and it is not clear that whatever that undetermined reason is will not effect Senator Obama’s electability.

      I’m also not sure how other group identifications (looking for a friendly way to describe discriminatory behavior) will factor into this cycle; xenophobia over our immigration policy; homophobia over gay marriage; and the extent to which controversy over Obama’s past will shade opinion of him, I am not sure.

      If all things were equal, and this election was happening without the unpopularity of the Bush administration, I’m not even sure Obama would be electable at all. That can’t really be said of the big losers in the elections cited (Stevensen and Carter; and I do acknowlege that it is merely my opinion that Obama would not otherwise be electable). There are historical models that are working against Obama, too; I’m not saying they are all either fair or just, but that they exist is hard to deny. The track record of African-American presidential candidates is quite poor.

      I’m no PhD in either field, but I double majored in History and Political Science because I feel like there lies a strong relationship between the two fields - but I’ve learned that historical models are only good at predicting current politics when they take into account all of the important variables (a mighty task in any era). I’m not sure this model has done due diligence here; it has clearly looked at the unpopularity of the incumbency, but to what degree it has looked at the electability of the challenger I’m not really sure. To what degree it matters, I’m not really sure. If we are to just follow the historical model mindlessly, the challenger could be anyone or anything and we would elect him/her/it, just because we hate the incumbent party so much. Would we really? Is the challenger totally irrelevant? Do we really elect completely as a reactionary move against a hated incumbent? Or does the challenger matter, and to what degree?

      Think about all the abused, misused, and tired historical models that you’ve seen. America as Rome. Terrorists as Nazis. We’re quick to try and link history to the present but often overlook important details when we do, and the devil is often in those overlooked details.

      The pundits seems ready to assume that America is eager for an African-American president. I think if we were eager we would have had one by now; America is tolerant of the idea, and the gulf between eager and tolerant is significant. People tolerate migraine headaches and traffic jams; it doesn’t mean they like them, and it doesn’t mean they’d choose them over something else if they had a choice. And I don’t mean to say an African American president is a headache or a traffic jam to me; I’m just trying to draw a distinction between tolerance and eagerness (or maybe acceptance); I think this distinction is going to be important during this election cycle, whether we want to believe it or not.

      Throw in a shady past that includes association with some very venomous individuals (Rev. Wright, et. al.), relative political inexperience, and being in a political party associated with gay rights and no coherent foreign policy (including the seeming all-important immigration policy) and I’m not sure what you have in Obama, but a textbook, historically average presidential candidate he is not. He comes with serious baggage. We’re failing as both historians and political scientists if we don’t at least acknowledge this, and acknowledge that our country is really in uncharted territory in this election on several fronts.

      Comment by Captain D — Monday, June 16, 2024 @ 2:45 am

    2. I agree that direct analogy is a problem (i.e., “Obama is Stevenson” or “America is Rome”, etc.)–but this isn’t argument by analogy, but rather looking at key variables that have long-term salience.

      And it may well be that the race issue makes this year’s contest unique. However, I am not so convinced that it will directly affect the fundamentals of the election.

      I am not sure that things are as unique and unchartered as you are arguing, but certainly it won’t be that long until we find out.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, June 16, 2024 @ 8:38 am

    3. Actually, most (if not all) of the professors noted in the piece are political scientists, not historians.

      You would think that the fact that Abramowitz was using a “forecasting model” would clue the headline writer in to the political science angle!

      Comment by Ratoe — Monday, June 16, 2024 @ 9:25 am

    4. Indeed.

      Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, June 16, 2024 @ 9:28 am

    5. I don’t really claim to know how unique or uncharted things are; my point was that I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else really can either because we are trying to use historical models to predict the outcome of an unprecedented set of electoral circumstances.

      The experts might be right, and it might be impossible for McCain to win. But they might also be wrong, and I was just trying to list a couple of ways in which their modeling *could* be off.

      Comment by Captain D — Monday, June 16, 2024 @ 2:45 pm

    RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

    The trackback url for this post is:

    NOTE: I will delete any TrackBacks that do not actually link and refer to this post.

    Leave a comment

    Visitors Since 2/15/03

    Wikio - Top of the Blogs - Politics



    Powered by WordPress