Although the 2012 presidential election is still a year away, primary season is in full swing as GOP candidates battle for the Republican nomination and the chance to defeat incumbent President Barack Obama. American Studies Professor Robert Schmuhl said it is normal to see a number of candidates battle it out early in the election season, as they try to win their party’s nomination. “The party that doesn’t occupy the White House usually has several competing candidates at the beginning of the primary and caucus season,” Schmuhl said. “That’s nothing new.” Sixteen candidates have officially declared their intent to run for the Republican nomination. The most recent polls show former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, as the current GOP favorite. “Mitt Romney has the advantage of having run for the nomination in 2008 and ready access to campaign money,” Schmuhl said. “For some reason, though, about three-quarters of Republicans remain lukewarm toward him. He needs to do well in the early states, or he runs the risk of rejection.” Other candidates continue to rise and fall in the polls. Most recently, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appeared at the top of the GOP radar after he secured the coveted endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, a prominent newspaper. Vincent Muñoz, associate professor of Political Science, attributed Gingrich’s recent success to his debate skills. “Gingrich seems to have momentum right now on account of his very good debate performances,” Muñoz said. “Whether he can keep that momentum, however, with increased media scrutiny given his personal baggage is an open question.” Rick Perry, governor of Texas, fell out of favor recently after poor debate showings. African American businessman Herman Cain is deciding whether or not to stay in the race amid sexual harassment allegations. Michelle Bachman, the Tea Party candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Hunstman and others are having trouble gaining enough support to become the frontrunner in the race. “Republicans are passionate about defeating Barack Obama, but there isn’t the same passionate intensity in support of a particular GOP candidate to do it,” Schmuhl said. “Whether that develops after the primaries and caucuses is a key question. It could be a ‘hold-your-nose’ election — with both major parties having standard bearers about whom there’s little excitement.” Since the Civil War, incumbent presidents have been reelected 73 percent of the time. Those who have lost, however, have shared Obama’s lower than 50 percent approval rating 13 months prior to the election, a New York Times analysis on Gallup polls reported in January. “Incumbents usually have an advantage, but the economic realities could offset incumbency for Obama,” Schmuhl said. With jobs and economic growth as two main issues in the 2012 election, less than a third of voters think a second Obama term will help improve the state of the nation, an October Quinnipiac poll showed. Despite news outlets’ constant coverage of personal scandals, debate slip-ups and political indifference, both Schmuhl and Muñoz said it was too soon to make predictions. “I don’t think most voters have actually started to pay attention to the GOP candidates yet,” Muñoz said. “The Republicans have already had six different figures at the top of one poll over the course of this year.” The last three midterm elections were change elections, which makes this primary season even more significant, Schmuhl said. “It’s a volatile and unsettled time, and many Americans think our politics are broken and in need of repair,” Schmuhl said.