To Emulate Bush, Obama Will Have To Become More Popular

Another day, another story about how Team Obama is hoping to replicate George W Bush’s successful re-election strategy.

I’ve written about this before, but the fact of the matter is that this theory is based on a largely mythical recollection of what happened in 2004. Democrats seem to have persuaded themselves that the hideously unpopular Bush won re-election by trashing the reputation of John Kerry. The fact of the matter is that Kerry’s vote share outperformed most fundamentals-based models. The solid foundation of Bush’s re-election strategy was that on Election Day most voters said they approved of Bush’s job performance. Kerry got an extraordinary 93 percent of the vote of Bush-disapprovers. The phenomenon of the anti-Bush voter who voted for him anyway out of disgust with Kerry’s flip-flopping was extremely rare.

As you can see in the chart above from Gallup, Bush’s approval rating during his re-election campaign was consistently higher than Obama’s is now. Any strategy based on emulating Bush has to have some element of making Obama more popular, not just whining about Romney’s flip-flops. Better models, I would suggest, might include Jennifer Granholm’s re-election campaign in 2006 or Christine Gregoire’s in 2010 both of which featured incumbents hampered by objectively poor economic performance. On the other hand, the problem for Obama is that even in a losing campaign he’ll likely win Washington and Michigan.