Will President Obama run for re-election in 2012? Should he? If he doesn't, who should be the Democratic Party's 2012 Presidential nominee?
I posed these questions to Democratic Party leaders, activists, and supporters in a nationwide e-mail survey conducted from November 29th to December 6th. The survey ended just before the President announced his compromise tax agreement with Republicans.
The survey received responses from 143 individuals in 26 states. While this number is too small to constitute a nationally representative sample, the survey's results and comments by respondents do serve as a virtual focus group of the Democratic Party's base. I believe that the responses also provide a serious warning sign to the Obama Administration.
Will President Obama seek re-election in 2012?
An overwhelming percentage of respondents (90.2%) believe that he will. The rest responded either that he will not (2.8%) or that they were not sure (4.9%). No response was made to this question by 2.1%.
Should President Obama seek re-election in 2012?
There was a drop off in positive responses to this question. While 72% believe that President Obama should seek re-election, 18.9% believe that he should not and 9.1% are not sure. The combined 28% who do not think that he definitely should seek re-election is a disturbingly high percentage of the Party's base.
Respondents who believe he will and should seek re-election noted that his not doing so would be "disastrous" and "destructive" to both the Democratic Party and to "national unity." The prospect of him not running was termed "ludicrous" and "ridiculous," ensuring his loss of power as a "self-proclaimed lame duck."
Throughout the comments by respondents, however -- whether they believed that he should or should not seek re-election -- ran several common themes:
- Be more "decisive" and "less of a pushover," and stop being a "placater"
- Reflect "in words and actions integrity, consistency and strength" and "fight for what he said he believed in" during the 2008 Presidential campaign
- Show the American people that he "really cares" and "go directly" to them "over the heads" of Congress
In addition to these stylistic suggestions, concerns were expressed by respondents about the Obama Administration's substantive policies, especially on Social Security, unemployment, taxes, health care, and Afghanistan.
If President Obama decides not to seek re-election, who should be the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2012?
The overwhelming favorite is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who received 68.4% of votes cast. She received more votes than all other names combined. The only other Democrats who received more than 3% of votes cast were former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean (5.1%) and recently defeated Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold (3.4%).
My own view
I acknowledge that many Democrats, including quite a few who responded, were dismayed that I would even consider posing such questions. I did so, however, out of a frank concern for our party's prospects after this past November's dismal results and a good-faith disquiet about the White House's overall electoral strategy. I conducted the survey strictly on my own -- neither on behalf of, nor in consultation with, any political figure or organization.
I am not sure myself whether President Obama should seek re-election in 2012, but I believe that he will not. I first had this feeling when he responded (albeit laughingly) to a Diane Sawyer question in January of this year: "The one thing I'm clear about is that I would rather be a really good one-term President than a mediocre two-term President." (A video of this response is available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/video/item/obama-rather-be-good-one-term-president.)
Since that interview, I've watched the President closely for other signs of his thinking, including his demeanor. Several months ago, I had the opportunity to be in a room with him at a Manhattan meeting of New York City Democrats. I did not see a man who seemed happy, or in his own famous 2008 campaign words, "fired up." He seemed dispirited and dispassionate, as he made the case for a Democratic victory in Congressional races in November.
I can envision him making a major speech, perhaps rather soon, in which he announces that he will not in fact be a candidate for re-election. President Obama seems genuinely pained by the stringent partisanship that still governs the nation. He may well conclude that the only way to demonstrate his genuine commitment to bipartisanship - and to actually get things done over the next two perilous years - is to remove his own political self-interest from the equation.
To the nation, his message will be that we simply cannot afford more divisiveness and the stalemate on pressing issues that is likely to ensue.
To Democrats, his message might be that we are fortunate to have another leader who is performing superbly in the second most difficult job in the federal government. Just as we made history with his election in 2008, we now have the chance to make history with her election in 2012. And, at this point, Hillary Clinton may well be the only Democrat who can win in 2012 against any Republican nominee.
And to himself, his family, and his closest aides, he can point to having the courage of his convictions and leave the legacy of being a truly unique President.