Reviews |  Elections aren't just about 'the economy, stupid' - and have never been

Reviews | Elections aren’t just about ‘the economy, stupid’ – and have never been


The economy is not the single, overriding factor that decides US elections – and it never has been. It’s not just “the economy, stupid”.

This three-word mantra was written on a sign at Bill Clinton’s successful campaign headquarters in 1992. Thirty years later, it is still invoked regularly. And the view that elections depend on the state of the economy and party positions on pocket issues remains dominant among both journalists and people who work in politics, especially Democrats.

Even before most Americans have voted, there are already comments that the Democrats lost this year’s election because the party focused too much on abortion and not enough on the economy and the inflation, especially high gasoline prices.

I don’t buy it. There are five main reasons to be skeptical of this economy-centric perspective:

First, there is a constant in American elections: the president’s party loses seats in the House mid-term. This has happened in 18 of the last 20 midterm elections, dating back to 1942. (The president’s party has lost ground in the Senate in 14 of those elections.)

The economy isn’t bad at every midterm election.

Election experts say there are two explanations why the president’s party almost always does poorly at midterm — and neither has to do with the economy. The first is that members of the president’s party vote at lower rates than those of the opposition party – with anger perhaps a stronger motivator than approval. The other reason is that the small bloc of voters who aren’t aligned with Democrats or Republicans often swing against the president’s party, seeking to balance power in Washington.

If this year’s midterm elections follow historic patterns, Democrats will lose about 40 House seats simply on the basis of President Biden’s low approval ratings and the fact that the party controls the presidency, after Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School survey. This is leaving aside all economic factors.

“Congratulations to the Republicans on their 2022 midterm victory!” FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich wrote on Twitter on Nov 6, 2020as it seemed clear that Biden would win the presidency.

Second, a good economy does not guarantee that a party will win an election – any more than a bad economy guarantees defeat. Economic conditions were quite good in 2000, 2006, 2014 and 2018, years when the party in control of the White House lost electorally. They weren’t good in 2012 when President Barack Obama was re-elected.

Whether GDP growth, the unemployment rate, the consumer price index, or some other measure is the best indicator of the economic situation of Americans is debatable. But no economic factor alone predicts US election results particularly well.

Inflation is likely hurting Democrats this year. But it’s likely that the Democrats would be on the verge of losing the House even if inflation weren’t high, because the party in the White House almost always loses the House.

Third, much of the intra-Democratic debate about the role of economic policy and rhetoric in electoral politics is actually coded conversation about gender, race, and politics. Many Democratic-aligned strategists and officials (Senator Bernie Sanders’ allies in Vermont tend to share this view in particular) want the party to embrace more economic populism and, in some ways, downplay issues such as the abortion and race. This is a political point of view, but knowing that the broader Democratic Party is more united in beating Republicans than any set of policies, this bloc uses election stories to advance its policy positions.

So whenever Democrats struggle politically, this bloc says the party doesn’t talk enough about economic policy. After the election, if the Democrats lose, they’ll say the Democrats lost because they didn’t talk enough about the economy. If the Democrats win, they’ll claim it’s because the Democrats have focused the right amount on the economy.

There is another bloc in the party, including many close to Biden, who are suspicious of Democrats who focus on issues like abortion and race, but for different reasons. Their argument, though rarely stated directly in public, is that Democrats are losing the election because the majority of white American voters, especially white males, support Republicans. Therefore, the party needs to find issues that center white men (economy) or at least ones that don’t leave them feeling centered (abortion, race.). This argument can also be used at any time, since Democrats almost always lose the blank vote. Even after the Democrats won the House, Senate, and Presidency in 2020, many Biden-aligned people in the party have argued that Democrats would have carried more districts and states had it not been for the emergence of the “defund the police” movement.

In reality, it’s unclear whether Democrats would win over more white voters or white male voters if they talked about the economy in a certain way or downplayed issues like abortion. A campaign is not a one-way conversation. Even if Democrats don’t campaign on issues like abortion, crime, and policing in a way that annoys some voters (or avoids those issues altogether), Republicans can still make them the focus of the campaign, as they currently do in key races. in New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

What is annoying about these arguments (but also useful for those who make them) is that the idea that a political party will do better in elections if it talks “more” about the economy or in some way is nearly impossible to measure or prove. If a pundit or strategist had written in June that Democrats would retain their majority in the House if they aired 80% of their campaign ads on economic issues and Biden gave a weekly speech on manufacturing, he might write: Democrats haven’t talked about the economy enough,” with one real, specific metric that the party hasn’t reached. I suspect that person does not exist.

Fourth, polls and focus groups in which Americans say the economy or jobs are their most important issue don’t capture what really drives voting decisions. In virtually every poll, at least 30% of voters say the economy is the most important issue in this year’s election. The economy is the most cited issue, as it has been in many previous election cycles.

But 30% of voters are highly unlikely to actually choose candidates based solely on economic conditions. The overwhelming majority of voters (80-90%) are likely to support the party they usually align themselves with. So while these voters might say the economy is their important political issue, what really drives their votes is partisanship.

It’s easy to reconcile party-line voting with Americans saying the economy is their most important issue, because partisan voters rate the economy more favorably when their party is in the White House.

Even swing voters might overemphasize the role of the economy in their votes. Asking people why they vote for a particular candidate, as researchers do in polls and focus groups, is difficult. Voters sometimes lie about their motives – and sometimes aren’t fully aware of it.

For example, if you’re a Pennsylvania voter who isn’t comfortable voting for Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman because his stroke made it harder for him to speak in public, you can say so. to a pollster or focus group. But you might not want to appear indifferent to Fetterman’s health. So you could just lie and say you vote for Republican Mehmet Oz because inflation is too high.

Fifth, US elections are complicated because so many things, including the quality of candidates, are at stake. “A lot of factors shape the election, including the economy” is far more accurate than “It’s the economy, silly.”

Clinton aides in 1992 also seemed to know. The sign at campaign headquarters included two other mantras that have been somewhat forgotten in the three decades since: “Change for more of the same” and “Don’t forget health care.”

I don’t like to call anyone or anything stupid. But let’s say “economics, dumb” as a singular explanation for the US election is a misconception that has persisted 30 years too long and should be removed.

#Reviews #Elections #arent #economy #stupid

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