The political world should know better by now

THE POLITICAL WORLD SHOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW…. Byron York’s piece on 2012 in the Washington Examiner the other day generated some attention, so it’s probably worth revisiting a fairly obvious point.

We’re fast approaching the halfway point in Barack Obama’s term. With Nov. 2 behind him, everything the president does will be calculated to boost, or at least not harm, his chances of re-election in 2012. What’s not clear is whether he fully appreciates how badly the coalition he led to victory in 2008 has frayed in just two years. A look inside his poll numbers suggests that if he cannot turn around some key trends, he’ll be a one-term president. […]

At this point, it will be hard for Obama to save himself. He’ll need a lot of help to win a second term in the White House.

I have absolutely no idea what the political landscape will look like in two years — and neither does anyone else. It’s why this kind of analysis is ultimately pointless. The problem isn’t that York is relying on faulty data or misleading results; the problem is the absurdity of the exercise itself.

I’d hoped the political world would know better by now. Two years ago, the notion that Republicans would have a net gain of 63 U.S. House seats in the 2010 midterms was completely ridiculous, but that’s precisely what happened. The developments were a reminder that two years is a long time in politics, and conditions can change quite a bit.

What’s more, we’ve seen scenarios like this before. At this point in Bill Clinton’s first term, a third of Democratic voters didn’t want him to run for re-election. In a hypothetical match-up against Bob Dole, the Republican Senate leader led the president by double digits nationwide.

Though York skipped over the 40th president, Reagan was in abysmal shape two years into his presidency. In late 1982, a Gallup poll showed Reagan trailing then-Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) by 15 points, and behind Walter Mondale by 12 points. Immediately after the 1982 midterms, another poll showed 56% of the country did not want Reagan to seek a second term. Steve Kornacki recently noted that after the ’82 midterms, “some outspoken conservatives even demanded — publicly — that [Reagan] be challenged in the ’84 primaries if he went ahead and ran.”

Two years before the 1992 race, it was assumed that George H. W. Bush would win in a landslide (he lost). Two years before the 1996 race, Clinton was a sure goner (he won easily). Two years before the 1984 race, Reagan was an embarrassing failure who had no shot at a second term (he won overwhelmingly). Maybe Obama’s standing will improve, maybe not. But shouldn’t recent history at least offer us hints about the wisdom of predictions two years out?

York briefly acknowledged that Clinton’s fortunes improved in his third and fourth years in office, but he talked to Clinton pollster Doug Schoen who doesn’t think Obama will see a similar recovery. In what may be the week’s most hilarious political paragraph, it appears that, Schoen — the Fox News “Democrat” who hates Democrats — conducted a poll recently and found that voters aren’t inclined to give Obama a second term.

Oh, well, in that case….

Look, Schoen may have done related polling in late 1994, and would have found similar results about Clinton. That’s the point. Doing a poll two years before a presidential election offers skewed and unreliable results. Schoen and York are arguing that Clinton recovered after dreadful poll numbers in 1996, but Obama probably won’t, because of dreadful poll numbers in 2010.

Is this supposed to be persuasive?