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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

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Volume 10, Issue 4 (Feb 2013)


The Miserable Presidential Election of 2012: A First Party-Term Incumbent Survives

James E. Campbell
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Political Science, 520 Park Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2013-02-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0003


This article examines the influences on the 2012 presidential election that led to the closely decided re-election of Barack Obama. Partisan parity, ideological polarization, a hyper-competitive campaign, and approval ratings for the incumbent, plus pre-convention preference polls that were evenly split, were strong signs that the 2012 presidential election would be close. The economic record of the Obama presidency, however, favored the election of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. On the other hand, President Obama had the advantages of a first party-term incumbent, and this first party-term advantage was the major reason for President Obama’s reelection. As a first party-term president, fewer voters blamed President Obama for the nation’s economic problems than blamed his predecessor. Of the 12 first party-term incumbent presidents to seek reelection since 1900, 11 won and only one lost. The election of a new presidential party is tantamount to electing a president to an 8-year term.


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About the article

James E. Campbell

James E. Campbell is a UB Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University at Buffalo, SUNY and author of three books on American elections, including The American Campaign: U.S. Presidential Campaigns and the National Vote. He has also published more than 80 articles and book chapters on various aspects of American politics. Portions of this analysis also appear in “A First Party-Term Incumbent Survives: The Fundamentals in 2012,” in Larry J. Sabato, ed., Barack Obama and the New America: The 2012 Election and the Changing Face of Politics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).

Corresponding author: James E. Campbell, Department of Political Science, 520 Park Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA

Published Online: 2013-02-09

Citation Information: The Forum, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0003. Export Citation

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