| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Jan 26 It's always the economy,
Whether President Barack Obama enjoys one term or two in
the White House will depend overwhelmingly on the state of
With a daily stream of gloomy economic data, Obama has said
he must act quickly to rescue the economy from the worst
turmoil in decades. But the new president has plenty of time to
help brighten the financial outlook before the next
presidential election in November 2012, experts say.
"The truth is it's rare for someone who runs for
re-election to get defeated in the absence of economic
turmoil," said Jeremy Mayer, professor of public policy at
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. "There are
tremendous advantages to incumbency."
The key is what happens in the months before voters head to
the polls, experts said.
"The one thing you want to avoid if you want to be
re-elected is a bad election-year economy," said Allan
Lichtman, presidential historian at American University in
Only 12 presidents have served a single elected term -- and
just two have failed to win a second term since the Great
Depression -- Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
Further back was Herbert Hoover, whose lone term ended in
1933 as the country was locked in the Depression.
"What they had in common, among other things, was a bad
economy," said Lichtman.
One-term presidents also tend to lack vision, be poor
communicators and fail to inspire voters, Lichtman said.
So far, Obama seems to most observers not to suffer from
those particular failings.
In fact, U.S. presidents considered to be the most
inspiring communicators used an ailing economy to win their
presidencies in the first place.
Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992 coined the phrase "It's the
economy, stupid," and Ronald Reagan in 1980 wooed voters by
asking if they were better off than they were four years
Although Obama's keeping his job may depend on how many
Americans lose theirs, Lichtman cautioned that his role
steering the financial ship can be quite limited.
"People expect the president, rightly or wrongly, to guide
the economy in such a way as to provide prosperity," he said.
"But the president does not control the economy. He can only
influence the economy."
Less significant factors in determining a one- or two-term
presidency include an intraparty challenge. Democratic
challenger Edward Kennedy damaged fellow Democrat Carter's shot
at re-election, and Republican challenger Pat Buchanan hurt
fellow Republican George H.W. Bush.
"If you want to look for signs of trouble, if Obama loses
an important wing of his party, the left, the center, .... then
he could face an intraparty challenge," Mayer said.
The first test at the polls for Obama will come in 2010,
when all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, one-third
of the U.S. Senate and many state governors' mansions will be
up for grabs.
"If things get a lot worse in '09 and '10, Democrats will
take a hit in the midterms. But if we start to see a recovery
in 2011, Obama will get the credit for that," said Mayer. "It's
when the pain comes and who's to blame."
(Editing by Patricia Zengerle)