If the economy is so bad, unemployment so high, foreign relations in such disarray, national security apparently so full of holes, the President's positions on key social issues so opposite traditional values, why is about half the American electorate still supporting Obama?
That's the question many are asking as polls continue to indicate a neck-to-neck run for the presidency. One explanation is that in a tight political race the candidate with the most strategic advantages wins the toys. Barack Obama seems to be outpacing Mitt Romney in the subtle factors that often determine victory or defeat.
Consider some Obama strategic advantages:
1. Advantage Obama: The incumbency
A September 13 headline at CNBC.com announced: 'Fed Pulls Trigger, to Buy Mortgages in Effort to Lower Rates.' Even though "the Fed is ostensibly independent, the decision comes at a ticklish time with the presidential election less than two months away," noted CNBC reporter Jeff Cox.
Fed decisions can have hefty impact on election outcomes. In 1960, Richard Nixon accused the agency of costing him the presidency through implementation of a tight-money policy that limited growth while Nixon's Republican boss, Eisenhower, was in office. This, thought Nixon, gave Democrat challenger John Kennedy a strategic advantage in being able to attack Republicans for casting the economy into a stupor.
Kennedy's victory showed that the best way to overcome the strategic advantage of incumbency is to make it a disadvantage. If Mitt Romney is to win the presidency he will have to drape the incumbency around President Obama's neck like the rotting albatross that dangled on the chest of the Ancient Mariner.
Does Romney have the political craftiness to pull this off? We will know soon.
2. Advantage Obama: The Establishment Elites
The consensus-forming and promoting Elites in contemporary America are the Establishments of Entertainment, Information, Academia, and Politics-Governance. This is a formidable force, almost all rallied behind Obama, and eager to expose every pimple on Romney's political face.
The Establishment Elites have the power of consensus and the juggernaut capacity to propagandize around it. The Elites are in consensus on many positions promoted by Obama.
A Pew Research Center study earlier this year found that 43 percent of Americans get their news from networks many perceive as tilting toward Obama and the Democrats, with only 30 percent watching a conservative-leaning cable network, Fox News.
Propaganda is the means of permeating a culture with the consensus set by the society's influencers. Propagandizing is used by those on both sides. The advantage will go to the side with the greatest capacity for delivering their message.
3. Advantage Obama: A reactive rather than a reflective electorate
As numerous studies have shown, television changed the nature of political campaigns. The new media are altering the voters as well. Now candidates must go far beyond mere TV in their drives for office, into the highly reductionist world of social media.
Rather than reflecting on policy, and connecting the dots regarding, say, a populist promise and its cost, many voters are reactive, responding to charisma and soundbites.
The New Republic said in a September 13 report that while most voters (53 percent) surveyed for a Gallup Poll believed Romney could handle the economy better than Obama, Romney, at this writing, was having a hard time gaining or sustaining a lead over the President.
The same poll revealed that Obama is 23 points ahead on "likeability." In a tight election in which most voters are reactive rather than reflective, meaning they are more susceptible to charisma and propaganda, "likeability" is a significant strategic advantage.
4. Advantage Obama: A nation without a cohering identity
Americans are characterized with "uncertainty as to the substance of (the nation's) identity," wrote Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington in his book, Who Are We? "National interests derive from national identity," Huntington said. "We have to know who we are before we can know what our interests are."
As far back as 1963, researchers asked: "To what does one assimilate in modern America?" In 1900, they noted, immigrants assimilated to Americanization. By 2000, writes Huntington, many among the nation's elite "were no longer confident of the virtue of their mainstream culture and instead preached a doctrine of diversity and the equal validity of all cultures in America."
To many people, the face of the President is the face of the nation. For a hefty swath of the electorate – and this plays into Obama's "likeability" factor – Obama's face, a meld of African and Caucasian, is the perfect countenance to display what they perceive as America's new pluralism.
Despite these four strategic advantages, there are unseen forces that can place Obama in great disadvantage. October surprises can happen to incumbents as well as challengers, as the assault on American embassies shows. Such unexpected events can turn the incumbency into the albatross.
And, when all is said and done, there is really only one Voter who makes the difference. "It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings…" (Daniel 2:21)
If President Obama is re-elected, what might be the spiritual implications, in light of Daniel 2:21? What will his next term look like? What will be the impact on churches and other religious institutions, as well as voters whose values oppose Obama's? The recent Democratic National Convention gave us many clues. We examine these questions in the next article in this series.