Nate Silver Doesn't Think Foreign Policy Is a Non-Factor
Posted by Jacob Stokes
Nate Silver's lengthy New York Times Magazine piece on how the numbers shape up for Obama's reelection is a fun read, and will likely generate much interesting discussion. Don't let my headline fool you. I didn't do such a selective reading of the piece, nor am I so stove-piped, that I think foreign policy will be a the factor in the election. But according to Silver, it does matter.
For one, it's a crucial difference between Obama and Jimmy Carter. Silver writes that, "When we look at the last eight elected presidents, only Carter faced a situation worse than Obama’s: approval ratings in the low 30s rather than low 40s, the likelihood rather than the mere possibility of a recession, a primary challenge rather than a clear path to renomination and a crisis in Iran rather than a string of foreign-policy victories." (Italics mine.)
Silver also explores a few specific electoral scenarios. In the worst-case outcome for Obama -- a candidate Romney and an economy with zero percent growth -- Silver says Obama's foreign policy record is one factor that Obama could use to pull an unlikely victory out of the hat. Chance of success: A very steep 1 in 6. Here's his explanation of the how the argument goes:
First, Obama may have some untapped potential in highlighting his foreign-policy wins. The killing of Osama bin Laden did not produce a lasting bounce in the polls. But — sorry to be so gauche — killing the world’s most wanted terrorist will make for a nice sound bite. Meanwhile, the NATO intervention in Libya reached a successful if bloody outcome, and the troops are coming home from Iraq. The White House has not done a good job of turning the discussion to foreign policy, and it has to be careful that in doing so it does not appear to be ignoring the economy. But foreign policy matters to voters, and Obama will have a marketing budget of hundreds of millions of dollars to get the message right.
With the jobs bill commanding about the same chance of success as Jon Huntsman's campaign and the Europeans intent on injecting as much uncertainty in the market as possible, and therefore not a lot of help for the economy likely forthcoming, the White House shouldn't write off foreign policy as a topic just yet. If Silver is right, there might not be much else for Obama.