Presidential Election Headed for a Photo Finish

Monday, October 8, 2012

With the 2012 presidential election gearing up for the final weeks of the campaign, it’s inevitable that some voters – particularly those who supported then-Senator Barack Obama four years ago – would compare this cycle to the 2008 election, and might be feeling nostalgic for days gone by. Political analyst Randall Miller, Ph.D., professor of history at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, says that while every presidential election is important, there was a sense of drama in 2008 that is missing from 2012.

In 2008, Miller says, Obama became the person for which there was a huge need. The Wall Street meltdown had brought the nation’s economy to its knees, and two unpopular wars were grinding on and on. His message of hope and change resonated strongly across the country.

“We were in crisis and had lost faith in ourselves as life as we knew it started to unravel before our eyes,” Miller says. “Candidate Obama was the white knight who came forward and said we should believe in ourselves again. Consequently, we loaded all of our problems onto him, but white knights are fairy tale figures, and expectations that our dilemmas would clear up quickly were unrealistic. Almost from the beginning of his presidency, there was a palpable sense of disappointment among the people who supported him when the enormity of our situation began to play out.”

Miller adds that President Obama is basically a pragmatist – perhaps not the most exciting of traits in a candidate. “That’s his personality,” Miller notes. “He’s not a firebrand ideologue or politico. Of course, he’s guided by strong principles and has priorities, but he’s a realist and a problem-solver, more comfortable talking policy than playing the politico.”

This pragmatism was magnified during the first debate with Governor Romney, who took advantage of President Obama’s apparent reticence to engage. “Obama was playing it cool, and was perhaps trying to be ‘Mr. Unflappable,’ something that worked during the last campaign, because it gave people the impression that he would exhibit grace under pressure,” says Miller. “However, it backfired during the debate, and with his opponent gaining in the polls, it’s clear that his team must re-think his strategy for the final two debates.”

According to Miller, while both sides have notched gains and losses in the polls, the election is far from decided.

“We haven’t seen the half of it yet,” he says. “Both candidates have had an influx of cash to their war chests, and the ‘air wars’ – advertising on TV, radio, online and in newspapers, magazines and social media – is about to really heat up. That said, I expect it to be a close race to the end. Look for a photo finish.”

Miller can be reached at miller@sju.edu, at 610-660-1748, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.



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