MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
As he wrapped up his Africa trip this week, President Obama lectured some of that continent's leaders about leaving office when their terms are over. He pointed out that U.S. law requires him to do so, but he added this...
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BARACK OBAMA: I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran I could win, but I can't.
BLOCK: He can't because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution. Still, this idea has relevance to the eventual nominees of both parties. And joining us to talk about why is NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Hi, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.
BLOCK: Why do you think President Obama raised this notion of a third term on this Africa trip?
ELVING: He was talking to the African leaders, but of course, he's aware his comments are going to travel across the Atlantic and he has been fairly open about his sense of confidence lately. It certainly helps hold down the talk of lame duck status, doesn't it?
BLOCK: It does and it opens up the doors to all kinds of conspiracy theories, right? The people who are saying this means that President Obama is launching a trial balloon, might try to declare a state of emergency or have Michelle Obama become president. This is floating out in the Twitterverse, right?
ELVING: Yes, the Internet is full of many things. The Obama remark prompted a storm of what you could call digital high dudgeon. But there is no path for him to remain president period.
BLOCK: But as we mentioned, his standing is important in this notion that if I did run I could win because his popularity will affect the Democratic nominee and that nominee will be tied to his performance, for better or worse.
ELVING: That's right. The standing of the president in approval polls is one of the strongest indicators of his party's likely success or failure in the next election. And whomever the Democrats nominate, that person will be said by many to be running for, quote, "Obama's third term."
BLOCK: Well, let's take up President Obama's hypothetical here. If he could run, could he in fact win? Nobody has won more than two terms since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
ELVING: No, but we've had four presidents who served out a second term since then and three of them would have been at least plausible as candidates for another term - Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, Ronald Reagan in 1988, Bill Clinton in 2000.
BLOCK: And you would get some argument, right, about each of those three.
ELVING: Of course. Eisenhower had health issues and he was ready to leave office, but he was still popular. His vice president, Richard Nixon, actually came within a whisker of winning that year. Reagan was 77. Many think he could have won easily, nonetheless. Clinton, in 2000, had survived impeachment. He was at about 60 percent approval in the polls and his vice president, Al Gore, actually won the popular vote for president that year, losing by the narrowest of margins in the Electoral College.
BLOCK: So what about Barack Obama?
ELVING: You could say he is on the bubble. His approval rating tends to run between 45 and 50. Pollsters also look at other measures, of course, such as the right direction-wrong track question, and that still yields very negative results. And looking at various kinds of data, the president looks to be about where he was in the summer of 2011 and the summer of 2012 leading up to his re-election that year.
BLOCK: And what's happened to the coalition of voters that got him elected in 2008 and then re-elected four years later?
ELVING: That could be a plus for him in this hypothetical because portions of that coalition are growing. More millennials will become eligible to vote every day, and the minority communities have been getting to be a bigger portion of the vote with each presidential election for a generation now. They were about 10 percent Reagan's era. Now they're close to 30 percent and increasing by about 2 percent in each presidential cycle. They didn't turn out so much for the midterms in 2010 and 2014, but if they are going to come back in 2016 - talking now about the young, the minorities - they would seem at least as likely come back for Obama as for any other Democrat.
BLOCK: That's NPR's senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Melissa.
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