Floyd Ciruli: 2004 will be a year of decision for Americans. The presidential election will be at the center of the choices. Key features of the election are fallout from the close and controversial 2000 election, the war on terror and the economy. Does the bitterness of the 2000 election linger with a majority of voters or only intense partisans? Is the war in Iraq seen as a logical extension of the war on terror—worth the effort and winnable? Or will Americans grow weary of war? Is a 10,000 DOW Jones average, coupled with two quarters of economic recovery, sufficient to assure voters the economy is sustainable and will create jobs?

September 11, 2001, remains the pivotal event in the Bush presidency and will shape the 2004 election environment. September 11 has changed the way Americans regard their military. Today Americans are commitment to providing security in Baghdad and credit the military for what’s going right in Iraq.

The re-election of an incumbent president, especially a wartime president, enjoys a degree of presumption. But recent incumbent presidents have failed to win second terms: Johnson, 1968; Ford, 1976; Carter, 1980; and the elder Bush in 1992. Complicating President Bush’s re-election is that Americans today remain anxious about security and the economy, and are closely divided in partisanship. And although the post-9/11 war on terror had broad-based support, the preemptive war in Iraq ignited the Democratic left and swelled its ranks as fighting dragged on and casualties mounted during the summer and fall.

There was some good news for the president in 2003: The economy has picked up speed, Saddam Hussein is in custody and Democrats are divided between the rejuvenated left and dispirited center.

It is not yet clear whether the presidential election is stirring the average citizen. While elites are animated and highly polarized, voter participation is low and marches and demonstrations are non-existent (even on liberal college campuses). But as the California recall shows, voters can engage quickly, and direct democracy continues to be the voter’s most popular form of anger management.

Either the close partisan divisions seen in recent elections will be repeated in 2004, or Republicans will solidify control at the federal level with improved majorities in both houses of Congress and the re-election of the president. Following are highlights of the political trends of 2004.

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