Traditionally, it was thought that presidential general elections didn’t really start until Labor Day, or perhaps the two national political conventions. This year the September holiday is in very close proximity to the Democratic and Republican conventions. And the Republican campaign, at least, still seems to be going through all sorts of preparatory shake-down cruises.
But some aspects of the general election landscape become more or less established long before the official opening gun sounds. And according to Roll Call‘s electoral handicapper Stu Rothenberg, the fundamental lay of the land isn’t likely to change between now and November:
With just about four months to go until Election Day, the national political landscape continues to favor Democrats strongly. Indeed, almost every bit of national- level data reflects problems for the Republicans….
For months, even for years, the national news has been bad, so it’s not surprising that voters want change. All of the numbers strongly suggest that Americans see the Democratic Party as the better vehicle for bringing about change than the Republican Party.
In spite of some better news from Iraq, most Americans think the war was a mistake and the administration’s performance inept. Perhaps it’s a sign of Republicans’ problems that most GOP officeholders and strategists would rather talk about the war than about domestic issues.
The economy has sputtered along for a while, but the most recent news has been much worse. Increased unemployment, continuing problems in the nation’s financial sector and much higher fuel costs and commodity prices (and therefore inflationary pressures) have further eroded consumer confidence and pulled the rug out from under stocks.
There is simply no reason to believe that the news will improve measurably between now and late October, which means that there is no reason to believe that the American public’s underlying mood will turn up dramatically.
Horse-race coverage of the presidential contest tends to obscure the underlying partisan dynamics. But as Rothenberg–in no way a Democratic partisan–concludes, the horse bearing the unfortunate colors of the GOP has an exceptionally rough track ahead.