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President Obama is "toast" in 2012 if the economy is stagnant and the Republican nominee is good, but give him a better economy and a candidate like Perry and he wins states like Georgia and Arizona, says New York Times stats guru Nate Silver. His piece in The New York Times Magazine this weekend goes into painstaking detail about why economic indicators are good but not great predictors of election outcomes in creating his model for analyzing Obama's chances. Nevertheless, it's fun to see the unknowable future represented in cold, hard numbers.
Taking a shot at the "sophomoric strategist" who slices up the electorate into "soccer moms" and "Nascar dads" (ouch, Mark Penn
), Silver says it's best to look at what Americans have in common. He sees that as uncertainty whether Obama can handle the economic problems he inherited, frustration about the bad economy, and a willingness to vote against him, and says each of those factors can be quantified. Crunching the numbers, Silver offers a serious analysis with lots of caveats -- like even if the economy is terrible and Republicans nominate a moderate, Obama could win if there's a headline "sort of October surprise: 'Mitt in Torrid Affair With Filipina Housekeeper.' Subhead: 'Illegal Immigrant Got Free Romneycare.'" But throwing that caution to the wind is highly entertaining, as is, as Hot Air
notes, looking at how bad the economy has to be for Michele Bachmann to triumph.
What if the economy is miserable but Bachmann is the nominee?
GDP growth: - 1.5 percent
Winner: 51 percent chance of a Bachmann victory.
What if the economy is growing a little, Bachmann is the nominee, and Obama is caught on tape kicking a puppy?
GDP growth: 1.8 percent
Winner: Add in another factor, like somehow Obama's approval rating drops from 43 percent, where it is now, to 30 percent, and odds are Bachmann wins even with a slightly growing economy.
What if the economy stalls out but Obama cures cancer?
GDP growth next year: 0 percent
Winner: 83 percent chance of a Romney victory. But if somehow Obama's approval rating shoots up to 56 percent -- Silver suggests he cure cancer this month -- he can beat Romney even with no economic growth.
What if somehow the economy grows enough to actually lower the unemployment rate and Republicans nominate a guy they hate?
Nominee: Jon Huntsman
GDP growth: 4.3 percent
Winner: 51 percent odds Huntsman will win. Note: Huntsman is the guy Silver thinks has the best chance of beating Obama even in a good economy, but Silver also thinks Huntsman has very little chance of winning the Republican nomination.
What if Obama pulls a Ryan Gosling and breaks up a fight while wearing a tank top but the economy craters?
Nominee: Herman Cain
GDP growth: -2.8 percent
Winner: 53 percent chance Cain wins, even with Obama's approval rating shooting up to 60 percent.
What if the economy stalls but Obama gets in a ton of zingers against a notoriously bad debater?
Nominee: Rick Perry
GDP growth: 0 percent
Winner: 56 percent chance Obama wins if his approval rating goes up to 52 percent.
What if the economy is awesome but a Texas cowboy makes Obama look like a wussy liberal dweeb?
GDP growth: 4.5 percent growth
Winner: 53 percent chance Perry wins if Obama's approval rating drops to 45 percent.
The American Prospect
's Jamelle Bouie
writes, "For my part, Silver's forecast shows us the extent to which it's still too early to know anything other than that this election will be a toss-up. Anything else depends on factors that we can’t actually predict." But that takes away all the fun.
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is the former politics editor for The Wire