Five Political Trends to Watch in 2012

What to keep your eye on in the New Year

Posted Dec 28, 2011

2012 will be an eventful political year, and here are five important trends to watch.

Congressional job approval.  As we end 2011, Americans dislike Congress more than ever before.  According to the Gallup Poll earlier this month, "A new record-low 11% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, the lowest single rating in Gallup's history of asking this question since 1974."  This low rate of approval could lead to contested congressional races in 2012 and perhaps to a lot of turnover, especially in the House. Congress's performance will no doubt be an issue in the 2012 presidential race as well.

Dynamics of the Republican presidential nomination.  We are just days away from the Iowa caucuses, and the start of the Republican presidential nomination process. It's been a highly volatile race, as I have written about recently.  Watching how the Republican race shakes out is obviously important, as it will determine who President Obama will face in November 2012.  But it is also important to watch this race as we will continue to see Republican candidates try out new attacks on Obama, and on each other.  

Obama's job approval.   As we continue to move closer to the 2012 general election, President Obama's overall job approval will be an important barometer of voter sentiment.  As 2011 closed, Obama's job approval in the Gallup Poll was slowly improving, but from a historical perspective his approval rating is one of the weakest among elected presidents in their third year of office.  If Obama can continue to improve his job approval rating among voters, his odds of reelection in 2012 will be enhanced.   But if his approval rating stays where it is throughout 2012, or drops, that may make for a close presidential race in November 2012.

Defining the franchise.  One of the biggest fights that will shape the parameters of the 2012 elections will be over the rules of the game.  While states have redrawn their legislative and congressional districts following the 2010 Census, in many places those new district plans are still in limbo, waiting resolution in the legal process.  Other rules like those that govern voter identification will be contested, as we have seen recently with the Justice Department's decision to block South Carolina's new procedures.  How these disputes over the rules of the 2012 election are resolved may play an important role in determining the outcomes of next year's elections.

The American economy.   As 2011 ends, there are signs that the economy may be on the mend.  Recent estimates of consumer confidence show it is rising at the year's end.  Unemployment seems to be decreasing according to government statistics.  But many other indicators show a shaky economy, including home sales and economic data from Europe.  Much of what will happen politically in 2012 will depend on whether the economic situation in the US improves, or stagnates.  This is probably the most important factor to watch in 2012.