ONE week into the US general election race, the polls show a dead heat. But many US presidential scholars doubt that John McCain stands much of a chance, if any.
Historians from both parties offered a litany of historical comparisons that offer little hope to McCain.
Several saw Barack Obama’s prospects as the most promising since Roosevelt trounced Hoover in 1932.
“This should be an overwhelming Democratic victory,” said Allan Lichtman, an American University presidential historian.
Lichtman, whose forecasting model has correctly predicted the last six presidential popular vote winners, predicts that this year, “Republicans face what have always been insurmountable historical odds.” His system gives McCain a score lower on par with Jimmy Carter’s in 1980.
“McCain shouldn’t win it,” said presidential historian Joan Hoff, a professor at Montana State University.
She compared McCain’s prospects to those of Hubert Humphrey in 1968, whose loss to Richard Nixon resulted in large part from the unpopularity of sitting Democratic resident
“It is one of the worst political environments for the party in power since World War II,” added Alan Abramowitz, a professor of public opinion and the presidency at Emory University.
His forecasting model — which factors in Gross Domestic Product, whether a party has completed two terms in the White House and net presidential approval rating — gives McCain’s about the same odds as Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and Carter in 1980, both of whom were handily defeated in elections that returned the presidency to the previously out-of-power party.
“These things go in cycles,” said presidential historian Robert Dallek, a professor at UCLA. “The public gets tired of one approach to politics. There is always a measure of optimism in this country, so they turn to the other party.”
That desire for change also tends to manifest itself at the end of a president’s second term. Only twice in the 20th century has a party won a third consecutive term in the White House, most recently in 1988, when George Bush replaced the term-limited Ronald Reagan, who was about twice as popular in the last year of his presidency as President George W Bush is now.
But the biggest obstacle in McCain’s path may be running in the same party as the most unpopular president America has had since at least the advent of modern polling. Only Harry Truman and Richard Nixon — both of whom were dogged by unpopular wars abroad and political scandals at home — have been nearly as unpopular in their last year in office.
“I can’t think of an upset where the underdog faced quite the odds that McCain faces in this election,” said Sidney Milkis, a professor of presidential politics at the University of Virginia.
“[Even] Truman didn’t face as difficult a political context as McCain.”
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