Numbers come out and the media tells us what they mean. The numbers come each month, so, each month the talking heads have something to talk about. In some way, the number of jobs created this month, Obama’s job approval numbers and the price of gasoline are intrinsically important. Unfortunately, the media has the habit of looking at two or three months of data and using that micro trend as a premise for analyzing the election. However, as Mary Matalin pointed out last week on “This Week,” those seriously following the election ought not to look to at these monthly numbers as predictive of what will happen in November.
Obviously, the economy will play a very significant role in how the election turns out. But members of Mrs. Matalin’s “reality zone” know that the most americans have no idea what these numbers are or mean. As with all politics, perception is reality, and often times perception is more important than reality altogether. The conventional wisdom is that the perception of the direction and the momentum of the economy is more important than its actual performance. Our economy has seen a brief and minor trend towards the positive end of things. However, I think we are far enough away from November that how the state of the economy will impact the election is still yet to be seen. The fact that no republican or professional journalist wants to admit is the following: the performance of the economy over the summer will (probably) be the single most important factor in the presidential election and no one really knows what is going to happen. This is in part because our own economy’s performance will be heavily influenced by Europe, which is an even bigger question mark than our own economy. Beyond the economy, I think the other major factors that remain are the potential for conflict with Iran and the eventual outcome of the GOP nomination process.
Iran seems to be an issue that gets only cyclical coverage. One week, it is all anyone can talk about. The next, not a single major story develops on the subject. Even when the media is saturated with coverage of Iran, my experience has been that almost no one is considering the potential political implications that Iran could have on the election. Such an event could sky rocket Obama’s approval ratings and put him in a position to demonstrate his capacity for leadership. Such a situation, if not a disaster, could ruin the Republicans’ chances. Unfortunately, the real nature of Iran’s nuclear program and the likelihood of conflict are murky. Some have claimed that a military strike on Iran is a matter of Summer or Fall, while others retain the position that diplomacy may allow the United States to avoid any such conflict altogether. I expect there to be some degree of confrontation and temporary resolution, but in reality this is another situation which has an outcome that is entirely up in the air.
Lastly, the other major factor in how the general election turns out is the eventual result of the Republican nomination. I am hesitant to make any statement about the landscape of the election because of its predictably unpredictable nature. Frankly, I dont even think it matters at this point. The “delegate math” message that Romney’s camp is touting should probably be abandoned for a real issue, but it is more or less correct. A great piece by Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics finds that Romney himself will have a very difficult time securing the number of delegates necessary. In essence, his analysis and the current numbers confirm what we have known all along. While Romney may be weak, the other candidates have no chance of winning, barring some sort of spectacular contested convention showdown. Either potential outcome is so far removed from the other, how it turns out will have a very significant impact on the general election.