Once upon a time (circa 1992), a certain political pundit coined the clever phrase "It's the economy, stupid," whispered it in Bill Clinton's ear, and cemented Democrats' hold over the White House for the next eight years. Ever since, politicians have taken the advice to heart.
In an election year, voters are expected to "vote their pocketbooks" -- incumbents tend to win in good economies, and challengers in bad ones. One study published earlier this year argued that "economic and institutional factors [account for] about 75% of the variation of the popular vote in presidential elections since 1916."
Right now, unemployment figures show 8.2% of the population out of work. The last time a sitting president was reelected with an unemployment rate this high was in 1940. So if the trend holds true, 2012 could be a very bad year for President Obama. Worse, a recent poll conducted by Bankrate.com appears to confirm that this is how things will play out. (Emphasis on "appears.")
Forget About "the 1%"; Check Out the 59%
According to the poll, 59% of Americans agree that their personal financial situation will play a big role in how they vote in November. Not necessarily a dispositive role (only 12% are so crass as to claim that their personal finances are the "single most important" factor in a nationwide election), but an important one nonetheless.
You see, there's another old saw in politics: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours." And the good news for the president is that despite the lousy economy, a sufficiently large number of people still have jobs, so the country as a whole isn't yet convinced that Obama must go.
And Don't Forget the 50%
Indeed, according to the poll, voters are still evenly split (21%-21%) on whether electing Obama or his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, will put more money in voters' wallets. Even more interestingly, when posed this question, a whopping 50% of the country threw up their hands in despair and said it doesn't matter who sits in the White House as far as how it affects their finances, which in many cases are still going to hell in a handbasket.
%Gallery-148279%Unless and until one candidate comes up with a solution to drag America out of its decade of decline, it looks like the real winner of the 2012 presidential race will be ... apathy.
Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith is seriously considering writing in Mickey Mouse for president on the 2012 ballot.