Amidst Obama's Falling Poll Numbers, MSNBC Tries to Suggest He Could Rebound Like Reagan

During the 3 p.m. MSNBC news hour Monday, anchor Chris Jansing asked the question and hosted an expert who supplied the seemingly desired answer. The question: Could President Obama make a mid-term comeback similar to President Reagan in 1982? The answer: Absolutely.

The two discussed the similarities of the situations faced by the presidents, and seemed to conclude that if the economy turns around, President Obama would almost certainly be re-elected.

It is a big if, but the short segment seemed quite focused on what would happen after the economy turns around. The two didn't bother to discuss what would happen if the economy continues to be stagnant, or takes a turn for the worse.

"Well you have a President facing a deep recession, high unemployment, dropping poll numbers, and a potentially game-changing midterm election. That was Ronald Reagan's first two years in office. Then, two years later, he won re-election in a landslide," stated MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing. "Could President Obama make the same comeback?"

Guest Allan Lichtman, presidential historian at American University, answered in the affirmative.  "Absolutely," he responded. "They are kind of mirror images of each other."

After Lichtman explained how the two Presidents' situations are quite similar, Jansing asked her follow-up question. "If the economy starts to turn around in the next year to 18 months...is it likely to follow that Barack Obama will have a much easier time with re-election?"

"It will follow like night to day," Lichtman predictably answered. "And of course this all presumes the Democrats don't commit internal suicide by challenging [Obama] in the primaries."

A full transcript of the segment, which aired on August 23 at 3:40 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
CHRIS JANSING: Well you have a President facing a deep recession, high unemployment, dropping poll numbers, and a potentially game-changing midterm election. That was Ronald Reagan's first two years in office. Then, two years later, he won re-election in a landslide. Could President Obama make the same comeback? And with 30 years between them, is it realistic to compare the fate of these two very different presidents?

Allan Lichtman is a political analyst and Presidential historian at American University. And we didn't just come up with this. There are plenty of people who have made this comparison, and especially in recent months, when the poll numbers for President Obama have been dropping so precipitously. Are there fair comparisons to be made with Ronald Reagan?

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Absolutely. They are kind of mirror images of each other. Each president won a pretty handy victory coming in against the grain of his times. Ronald Reagan was a conservative elected at the end of a liberal-to-moderate era. Barack Obama was a liberal, elected at the end of a conservative-to-moderate era. Both presidents passed major initiatives. Ronald Reagan with his big tax cuts. Barack Obama with his stimulus plan and his health care plan. Neither one got very much credit for that during their first two years. They both faced biting recessions, they both saw their poll numbers plummet into the low forties, remarkably identical poll numbers. And in both cases, the ideological wings of their parties were very unhappy. Conservatives were really unhappy with Ronald Reagan because he wasn't cutting the budget, and he wasn't pushing social issues like abortion, and we know the liberals are very unhappy with Barack Obama because of his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and his failure to adopt a more liberal type of health care, and to push harder on global warming. So let me count the ways they are similar, as the poet would say.

JANSING: If the economy starts to turn around in the next year to 18 months, if people start to get jobs again, if people start to feel more confident in their jobs, start buying houses and spending money again, is it likely to follow that Barack Obama will have a much easier time with re-election?

LICHTMAN: It will follow almost like night to day that Barack Obama will win re-election if the economy picks up. Ronald Reagan faced a tough midterm, he lost a couple of dozen house seats, but the economy began to pick up in 1983, boomed in 1984, and he won one of the biggest landslide re-elections in the history of the United States. The same thing could happen to Barack Obama, although it's unlikely the economy will boom the same way it did for Ronald Reagan. So he may not be looking towards a landslide, but if the economy significantly improves, especially as we head into the election year, then I think Barack Obama's re-election is almost certain, particularly given the confusion within the opposition, and the lack of a clear, strong, Republican opponent.

And of course this all presumes the Democrats don't commit internal suicide by challenging him in the primaries.

JANSING: Ah, well there's always that.

LICHTMAN: Always that. The Democrats can always snatch defeat from victory.
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014