As pundits continue to search for parallels between President Obama and his predecessors, the Washington Examiner‘s Michael Barone adds his own observations today. He tackles the notion that the 44th president’s political fortune could mirror that Harry Truman’s.
It’s always helpful to be reminded that early polls may not be predictive and that opinion can change, as was the case when Truman won in 1948 and when Carter lost in 1980. But we should keep in mind that today’s polls are better and more frequent than they were 63 years ago.
Gallup’s last 1948 poll was taken between Oct. 15 and 25 and showed Thomas Dewey leading Truman by only 5 points. No contemporary pollster would quit eight days before the election after getting that result.
There are in fact major differences between Truman’s standing in 1947-48 and Obama’s standing today. Contrary to Truman’s “do-nothing” characterization of the Republican 80th Congress, it in fact did a lot. It repealed wartime wage and price controls, cut taxes deeply and passed the Taft-Hartley Act limiting the powers of labor unions.
None of those actions were reversed by the Democratic Congress elected with Truman in 1948. Many congressional Democrats in those days were anti-New Deal conservatives. Truman won many votes from Democrats still upset about the Civil War. Few such votes are available to Obama or congressional Democrats in 2012.
In addition, Truman’s victory was due to two “F factors” — the farm vote and foreign policy — the first of which scarcely exists today and the second of which seems unlikely to benefit Obama in the same way. …
… Truman’s tough stand against communist aggression played a key part in his upset victory in 1948. Will Barack Obama have a similar accomplishment? Or will he be seen as impotent against our enemies, as was Jimmy Carter?