It doesn't take an expensive survey or a tremendous amount of insight to realize that as a campaign Obama 2012 is going to lack the unprecedented wave of enthusiasm that carried Obama 2008 to victory. Regardless, we might be on the verge of a historical anomaly: a sitting President with an approval rating under 50% who, Palin-esque momentary surge of interest in Paul Ryan during Convention week aside, appears to be on the way to a comfortable (if not exactly overwhelming) victory in the Electoral College.
In 2008 and 2009 I taught classes about the 2008 election at one of my previous institutions, and I was often asked what the long term forecast held for 2012. I said that for a president elected in a recession, such predictions are not exactly rocket science: either the economy would get better and 2012 would be Obama's coronation, or the economy wouldn't get better and he'd be in real trouble. The wild card, which was apparent even back in 2008, was the GOP's lack of an obvious quality challenger. Their best hope at that time appeared to be the emergence of some heretofore unknown superstar between then (2008/2009) and now. It didn't happen, and they were left to choose a candidate from a pool of old, recycled losers. They had to spend months seriously considering nominating Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich; if that doesn't scream "We've scraped clear through the bottom of the barrel into the foul-smelling swamp beneath it" then I don't know what does.
I'm generally pretty bad at predictions but this was an easy one. Here we are four years later with an economy that, some tout-able statistics aside, is still mired in a recession with high unemployment. Obama is predictably suffering on account of that (along with his general lack of effective leadership and his baffling decision to pay a stratospheric price for the pitiful wages of moderation and centrism) and by historical standards appears ripe to go down in flames after one term. But the best candidate the Republicans could find is a guy that even they can't stand. Much as in 2004 when the Democrats nominated their own "Yeah, there's no one else so I guess the rich guy with name recognition will do" candidate, there is no such thing as Romney Supporters right now. His "support" is merely people who hate Obama so much that they literally will vote for anyone but.
This is setting up one hell of an amusing post-election narrative on the right. If Obama wins – certainly no slam dunk, but if you had to bet your life savings on the race right now you'd probably put your money on him – we might expect a right wing meltdown that will put the shitshow that was November of 2008 to shame. I think we will be disappointed, however. The narrative is already being constructed: There's nothing wrong with our ideology. It was all Romney's fault. It's painfully obvious that conservative newspapers, magazines, and bobbleheads are laying the groundwork for countless post-election "None of us actually liked this guy, and you didn't either" pieces. The funny thing is that they will actually have a point; nobody likes this guy. When bastions of communist agitprop like the Wall Street Journal and The Economist are opining that, you know, we want to like this guy but we really can't find a reason, it's fair to say that the candidate was a big part of the problem.
The likely result is a Republican Party that once again doubles down on its entire platform and if anything moves even farther to the right in preparation for 2014 and 2016. That worries me, especially considering that they have a potential 2016 candidate (Marco Rubio) who legitimately has the charisma, personality, and self-presentation to do very well in our modern media-driven elections. The Democratic opponent, conversely, either will be a recycled name from the Oldies but Goodies pile (you know who) or a still-to-be-discovered superstar who will emerge over the next few years. I'm not so sure that the latter exists.