Key numbers will decide whether Obama wins reelection

The 3 a.m. phone call, $20 million fundraising quarters and 53 percent of the vote.

Those numbers told the story of the 2008 race. Here are the numbers that could decide if President Obama wins a second term. 

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• 8, 9 or 10: At this point, it is hard to imagine any number having a bigger effect on the outcome of the 2012 election than the national unemployment number. If it’s close to or over 10 percent, Obama will be among those unemployed. Get it closer to 8 percent, and Obama can follow the Reagan model to reelection that his staff covets.

• 11: That’s the percentage of first-time voters who came out in 2008. According to exit polls, 69 percent of those new voters were “hopers and changers” inspired by Obama to go to the polls. The realities of governing have seriously dampened this group’s enthusiasm toward Obama, but if he wants to win, he’ll have to turn them out again.

• 100,000: That’s roughly the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now. Obama is scheduled to start bringing them home next month, but the question of how many is what everyone is waiting to hear. War fatigue is running rampant on both the right and the left, and the president will be pushed to get this number low before November 2012. But if he leaves too soon and there is a perception the U.S. is losing in Afghanistan because of it, Obama could find himself struggling to win the national-security vote that he seemed to wrap up by killing Osama bin Laden.

• 5: The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq this week. Obama rose from state senator in Illinois to president because of his outspoken opposition to a war that most Americans think is already over. If there is a significant uptick in violence, as officials expect, as the last of the U.S. troops leave this fall, Obama could be politically harmed by the unpopular war. But if troops leave with minimal casualties, the president can put a bookend on his first and most famous campaign promise and perhaps buy a little breathing room in Afghanistan.

• 95: The percentage of black voters who backed Obama. The president will likely do well with this group again, but Obama must turn out these voters, many of whom voted for the first time in 2008.

• 67: Perhaps more critical and definitely more up in the air than the black vote, Obama won the majority of Hispanic voters in 2008. But he did so promising to reform immigration, a promise that is unlikely to be kept in the current political environment. Putting Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the Supreme Court helps, but outspoken proponents of reform like Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) are warning that the president will suffer at the polls absent a reform plan.

• 47: The percentage of over-60 voters who backed Obama in 2008. If the president is looking for a bloc with which he can make inroads, seniors might be it. Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan has given Democrats a strong talking point with seniors worried about losing Medicare benefits, even when Ryan’s plan would only affect those 55 and younger. 

• 14.3 trillion (dollars): U.S. debt is without question a bigger number now than in elections past. The president will have to make a deal with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. How much he can cut future deficits and how he gets it done will say a lot about the president’s strength. Any slip-ups, and the GOP candidates have all summer to bash the president.

• 2:1: That’s the ratio of Americans who think the country is “pretty seriously on the wrong track,” according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll that came out Tuesday. The poll was filled with bad numbers for Obama, but unless Democrats can arrest the freefall of public opinion about their handling of the economy, next November will be a red November.

• Two-thirds: More bad news from the poll shows that a majority of independents disapprove of the job Obama is doing on the economy. The White House has aggressively pursued these voters, carving a centrist course in hopes of winning over moderates and independents. If Obama doesn’t win these voters over, he will have repeatedly angered his base for no good reason.

• 47: GOP 2012 front-runner Mitt Romney tied Obama by winning this percentage of support from those surveyed in a poll released this week by The Washington Post. Romney is by no means assured the Republican nomination, and he will likely get bruised and dirty in the primary process. But this number is a stark reminder that no matter how well Obama is doing or how unbeatable he might seem, the U.S. electorate breaks down close to 50-50. Obama won in a landslide with 53 percent just three years ago, but expect this to be a tighter race.

• 10: The number of incumbent U.S. presidents who have lost reelection. If Obama doesn’t want to be No. 11, then he has little margin of error when it comes to these other numbers.


Youngman is the White House correspondent for The Hill. Find his column, Obama’s Bid for Reelection, on thehill.com


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