These expectations matter, since Democrats seem to understand that their most significant advantage stems from the increasingly common conviction that Romney can’t win. Barack Obama may enjoy only a tenuous lead in the ongoing struggle for public opinion, but he’s decisively beating his opponent in the confidence game.
For four months, ever since Mitt Romney became the all-but-certain GOP nominee, polling most often indicated a breathlessly close race, with slight advantages for one side and then the other. But the same surveys show big majorities—sometimes approaching 2–1—expecting an Obama victory. While half or more of all registered voters express their disapproval of the president’s job performance, and decisive majorities believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, a significant proportion of even those who judge him a failure still think he’ll succeed in getting rehired for the nation’s top job.
At the political futures site InTrade, which allows people to invest their money in predicting electoral outcomes, Obama has spent all year as the heavy and consistent favorite; a hundred days before the election he led Romney by a margin of 57–40.
In politics every candidate wants to build a sense of inevitability, inspiring his admirers and discouraging his detractors. Endlessly repeated predictions of decisive triumph can become a self-fulfilling prophecy and a survival strategy for a struggling president. The Obama campaign has launched a determined effort to portray the president as unbeatable and to characterize Mitt Romney as a hapless loser, in much the same way that Bill Clinton managed to stigmatize his challenger Bob Dole as a “dead man walking” in 1996.
But Clinton also could demand a vote of confidence on his own constructive leadership by pointing to a roaring economy, a rapidly declining deficit, and an increasingly peaceful and democratic world. On the eve of their fateful decision in 2012, few Americans see such positive strides or optimistic developments, either at home or abroad.
In that context, it makes sense that Obama supporters would prefer to spend their energy convincing the public that their man will win rather than debating the substantive issue of whether he deserves to win.
If most people believe that our nation’s headed in the wrong direction, then why wouldn’t they choose to switch drivers? With nearly everyone demanding dramatic change in Washington, it hardly makes sense to keep the same guy in charge.