If voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction, the incumbent party shouldn't make plans to keep the White House. Bill Clinton won an upset victory in 1992 largely because relatively few voters thought the country was on the right track; most people were looking for new leadership to change direction.
But after Clinton's surprising first win, the country was split down the middle, with voters taking sides according to ideology and party identification.
Campaign '08 has been different. From the moment Obama entered the race, he presented himself as the candidate of fundamental change with a biography, campaign strategy and set of priorities to match. His argument found a receptive audience in part because right-track numbers were at a record low; consistently fewer than 20% of Americans felt the country was going in the right direction, a shockingly low figure even lower than in 1992 in a nation known for its optimism. The Bush Administration steadily lost favor after a series of botched choices and extreme events (the grinding wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina, a cluster of embarrassing investigations, the collapse of the economy, etc.), and for most of Bush's second term, the wrong-track number was a colossal drag on the Republican Party's chances. By Election Day, the national mood was so sour that fundamental change seemed the most rational choice.
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