Incumbent Record Shapes Presidential Race; Low Approval Rating, Weak Economy Creates Favorable Republican Climate, UB Political Expert Predicts

Release Date: October 25, 2011

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"Only one incumbent presidential candidate, Harry Truman, has succeeded in retaking the office with an approval rating below 45 percent," says UB's Campbell.

Buffalo, NY -- With the 2012 presidential campaign in full swing, President Obama's low approval rating and the struggling economy will be key indicators in the election outcome, according to University at Buffalo political scientist James E. Campbell. In fact, Campbell says, a 45 percent approval rating is the magic number, defied only once in history, for an incumbent to retain the office.

"With an incumbent in the race, the presidential record over the last four years will really shape the election's focus," Campbell said. "The political climate looks favorable for the Republicans, but they have to be concerned about having a reasonable candidate that will allow voters to register their dissatisfaction with the incumbent's record, particularly with respect to the economy."

Campbell, UB Distinguished Professor and chair of the UB Department of Political Science, is a specialist in American electoral politics and forecasting. He is available for commentary and analysis on the state of the campaign and the Republican candidates seeking the party's nomination. Campbell can be reached at 716-645-8452 or

"President Obama has a high 30 to low 40 percent approval rating and historically only one incumbent presidential candidate – Harry Truman - has succeeded in retaking the office with an approval rating of below 45 percent," Campbell said. "President Obama has plenty of time to bounce back and hit that important rating threshold, but it is still likely to be a close election.

"There are some key factors in this race. The economy is simply the overriding issue in the campaign. Americans historically have not accepted presidential excuses for a weak economy. This will be a definite problem for the President's reelection campaign. Even if the economy shows signs of recovery at election time, the president carries the weight of poor economic performance over most of his term.

"Then we have the Republicans. The longer the Republican field stays crowded the more it works to Mitt Romney's advantage, however there is still a great deal of 'anyone but Romney' sentiment out there. He is still the front runner but has not put much distance between himself and the other candidates. The Republican race for a candidate could stay alive right until the time of the convention, but more likely will clarify based on how well Romney does in the southern states," Campbell said.

"The real driver in how effective the Republicans will be in the race will be in how well they prevent President Obama from going on the offensive," Campbell said. "For the Republicans, the campaign has to stay focused on the past record because if it becomes about the future, the President has a greater chance of success."

More of Campbell's observations will be posted on the UB Media Relations News Tips Blog at

Campbell is a nationally recognized and widely published political scientist whose research and publications cover political campaigns and elections, voting behavior, American political parties, American macro politics, election forecasting, public opinion, campaign finance, political participation, presidential politics, presidential-congressional relations, and electoral systems. More information on Campbell is available at The author of four books, 60 book chapters and many articles in major political science journals, Campbell is president of Pi Sigma Alpha (The National Political Science Honor Society), a former American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and a program director at the National Science Foundation. He has served on the editorial boards of six political science journals and on the executive councils of seven political science organizations.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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