Analyzing Obama’s Economic/Political Troubles

Nate Silver, a new breed of statistically oriented political analysts, boils down President’s Obama’s macro baggage in an article for this weekend’s edition of The New York Times Magazine. Silver’s impressive record in forecasting elections puts him on the short list of must-reads in political calculus circles these days and his latest foray into the dark art of looking ahead doesn’t disappoint for intriguing evaluations of the national political mindset. Think politics in a Moneyball framework.

In any case, Silver reports that the President has no shortage of troubles as a candidate, and much of it comes down to the economy. Here’s the bottom line (or one facet of it), according to Silver, along with some thoughts on how to crunch the political numbers going forward:

• First, many of us understand that Barack Obama inherited a terrible predicament. We have a degree of sympathy for the man. But we have concerns, which have been growing over time, about whether he’s up to the job.

• Second, most of us are gravely concerned about the economy. We’re not certain what should be done about it, but we’re frustrated.

• Third, enough of us are prepared to vote against Obama that he could easily lose. It doesn’t mean we will, but we might if the Republican represents a credible alternative and fits within the broad political mainstream.

Each of these factors, in turn, can be quantified.

• The first factor, Americans’ performance reviews of Obama, can be measured through his approval ratings.

• The second factor, economic performance, can be measured through statistics like G.D.P.

• The third factor — essentially, the ideological positioning of the Republican candidate — is sometimes thought of as an “intangible.” But it can be measured too, and it matters a great deal.

As we get closer to the election and more data become available, we can indulge — even encourage! — greater complexity in the analysis. Figuring out how Obama is performing in individual states and how this translates to the Electoral College, for instance, requires a fair amount of attention to detail. But it is premature to do that now. Instead we should think big, and focus on the three fundamentals.