In stormy times, it’s the leaders who shine
Natural disasters can be horrific and Australians have suffered our fair share over the years. Australians generally have a big heart when it comes to large scale calamities and are often the first to reach into their pockets following disasters locally and around the world.
However the cold political reality is that a hurricane like the one battering the US East Coast is often the saviour political operators within the ranks of the incumbent party secretly hope for.
It’s not some cynical commenter’s view but rather a historical political fact. Times of civil upheaval on a local, national and often global level generally favour the incumbent.
In 2011 Cyclone Yasi saw Labor Premier Anna Bligh, a leader who had been on the nose for months, leap forward in the polls to become more than competitive relative to the LNP.
Ten years earlier, Prime Minister Howard was making a slow and steady comeback having lost the safe Queensland seat of Ryan in a March by-election, then clawing back support to retain the Victorian marginal seat of Aston in July.
But the terrible events of 2001 saw the Coalition surge forward in the polls and comfortably win the election in November.
In the same year, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was begged by his supporters and large sections of the media to put his hat in the ring to stand for President after the way he rallied New Yorkers following the terrorist attacks.
During acts of god or acute acts of hostility by enemies of the state, constituents look to those in authority to provide assistance, information and comfort. Having no actual authority, those in opposition tend to be squeezed out of the public’s field of vision.
For the incumbent it’s an opportunity to meet the voting public’s expectation by displaying forthright leadership in a tough situation.
Anna Bligh and John Howard both stepped up to the plate, took strong positions in each of the difficult situations they faced and found favour in the mind of constituents.
It’s this political reality that will likely see US President Obama safely walk across the line next Tuesday where previously he may have lost or only won by the skin of his teeth.
Following the three candidate debates Romney had made significant ground on Obama, with the national polls now placing each man on 49%.
The new reality is that Romney will receive little relative media exposure during the storm and in the immediate aftermath. Of course he’ll try to spend time on the ground, encouraging emergency workers and embracing those who have lost everything.
However it’s the President who will declare areas like New Jersey and Manhattan ‘disaster zones’ and commit billions of dollars to the rescue, recovery and rebuilding of the East Coast. That’s what the electronic media will blanket their broadcasts with and that’s what voters will see and hear; a President who stood by them during a tough time.
There is a risk for President Obama. Fail the leadership test in this sort of situation and the public will switch their support in droves. George W. Bush flying over New Orleans following cyclone Katrina rather than getting down on the ground was not a good look and he paid the electoral price.
Obama’s minders will well remember that. He won’t make the same mistake.
Of course President Obama has played a straight bat declaring that he’s not interested in voter reaction but more concerned about his fellow Americans in the danger zone. Love or hate his political views, Obama seems like a man who genuinely means what he says in this situation.
However the faceless political apparatchiks and seasoned campaign veterans working on the Obama campaign will likely be thanking the political gods for such a well-timed circuit breaker.
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