One hundred years ago, the European powers were hurtling down a path leading to World War I. Trench warfare became the dominant image of that war, as both sides dug in and the battle lines barely moved. Many called it the "War to End All Wars," but in the end it merely set the stage for World War II.
Election 2012 is shaping up to be the political equivalent of trench warfare that fails to resolve anything.
Just 49 percent of homeowners in America now believe their home is worth more than they paid for it.
Rasmussen Reports has asked that question for years, and it has never before fallen below the 50 percent mark. This represents a sea change in personal finances that challenges core assumptions about the way our economy works.
Any doubt that Mitt Romney would win the Republican presidential nomination vanished when Rick Santorum left the race. It also marked the end of Romney's time as the defining figure in the overall contest for the White House.
The GOP nomination process was seen by many as a competition between Romney and an entertaining cast of I'm Not Mitt Romney challengers. Questions were raised about Romney's perceived weaknesses and whether he could win over the hearts and votes of conservatives. But now President Obama moves to center stage and becomes the defining figure of the general election campaign. Now it's about Obama, not Romney, as the election becomes primarily a referendum on his first term in office.
As Mitt Romney assumes the role of presumptive Republican nominee, polls suggest a competitive general election matchup between the former Massachusetts governor and President Obama. Typically, both candidates poll in the mid-40s, while 10 to 12 percent remain uncommitted to either side.
Among these uncommitted voters, Rasmussen Reports polling shows that just 22 percent approve of the way the president is handling his job. Seventy-two percent (72 percent) disapprove. As for intensity, just 2 percent strongly approve, and 40 percent strongly disapprove.
There's a reason President Obama, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and many others are touting tax reform these days. On the campaign trail, it taps into deeply held beliefs about the way American society ought to work and the role of government.
Seventy-seven percent think it's important to replace the entire federal tax code with something simpler. Seventy-one percent favor a tax code with lower tax rates and very few deductions.
Many Republicans talk of an entitlement mentality that threatens the character and finances of the United States. In their view, the problem is that too many voters feel entitled to goodies provided by the government and financed by taxpayers.
It is true that so-called entitlement programs are growing as a share of the federal budget and the national economy. Along with spending on national defense and interest on the federal debt, spending on entitlement programs consumes the overwhelming majority of the federal budget. But a close look at the data shows that it's not a voter sense of entitlement that is driving the process. Quite the contrary.
Nearly every national political campaign emphasizes the importance of connecting with the middle class. So how come in the 2012 presidential race, none of the candidates are able to make that connection?
A hint may be found in the results of a Rasmussen Reports survey showing that just 27 percent of voters nationwide believe government management of the economy actually helps the economy. Fifty percent think government economic activism does more harm than good.
As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama declared his support for green energy development. "For the sake of our economy, our security and the future of our planet," he said, "we must end the age of oil in our time."
As president, Obama called for putting 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. He backed that call with more than $5 billion in taxpayer subsidies to jump-start the electric car industry. The president also put in place a program that gave $7,500 to anyone who would actually buy an electric car. Despite that support, sales were minimal in 2011, so his new budget proposes hiking that subsidy to $10,000 a car.
While much of the focus these days is on the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, there are some developing trends that are likely to have the man already in the White House smiling. Only 29 percent of voters nationwide believe the United States is currently heading in the right direction, while 64 percent believe the nation has gotten off on the wrong track. Those aren't great numbers for a president seeking re-election — but that 29 percent is up from 24 percent a month ago and 16 percent the month before that.
A similar pattern can be found when reviewing the way people view the economy. The raw numbers are bad, but the trend shows improvement. Fifty-seven percent say the country is still in a recession. A majority has held that view consistently for four years. But the number that believes the country is in a recession is down from 61 percent a month ago and 67 percent three months ago.
Newt Gingrich has surged to the lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination with the strong support of evangelical Christian voters. To some, given Gingrich's personal life, this support is puzzling. Whatever else people say about Mitt Romney, his personal life seems above reproach and a good role model for others.
But Gingrich benefits from the fact that when it comes to ethics, voters always grade politicians on a curve. Among Republican primary voters nationwide, 68 percent believe the former House speaker's ethical standards are at least as good as those of most other politicians. Even 51 percent of Romney supporters and 74 percent of Rick Santorum's voters view the ethics of Gingrich as the norm for his peers.
When his tenure at the investment firm Bain Capital became an issue in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney responded by saying he "was disappointed ... to see one of my opponents attacking free enterprise, just like the president was."
It's understandable why Romney would want to see criticism of his resume as an attack on free enterprise. Seventy percent of Americans favor a free market economy over a government-managed economy. Whether in the primaries or the general election, Romney would like to say he believes in free enterprise while the other candidates believe government has a vital role to play in helping every industry and company succeed. Americans overwhelmingly reject that premise and don't want government in the business of picking economic winners and losers.