The direction, not the strength
September 13, 2012 2 Comments
There used to be a huge debate in political science as to whether it mattered more whether voters were closer to one candidate than the other on an issue (the spatial) model, or, rather, were basically on the same side of the issue, regardless of closeness (the directional model). I don’ t know if that ever got fully resolved– seems like the debate has just largely been dropped. Anyway, what got me thinking of this was a recent series of posts about how the economy is actually helping, not hurting, Obama. Here’s Ezra:
Some months ago, I worked with political scientists Seth Hill, John Sides and Lynn Vavreck to build a model that used data from every presidential election since 1948 to forecast the outcome of this presidential election. But when the model was done, I thought it was broken: It was forecasting an Obama win even under scenarios of very weak economic growth. (You can play with the model here.)
After a lot of frantic e-mails, my political scientist friends finally convinced me that that’s the point of a model: It forces you to check your expectations at the door. And my expectation that incumbents lose when the economy is weak was not backed up by the data, which suggest that incumbents win unless major economic indicators are headed in the wrong direction, as was true with unemployment in 1980 and 1992.
This year, the major economic indicators are headed in the right direction, albeit slowly. We’ve been adding jobs, though not enough. We’ve been growing, though not particularly fast. We’ve seen the unemployment rate drop, though partially because workers are leaving the labor force. All in all, it’s not an impressive record. But it’s weak growth, not a new recession.
Short version, it seems like it’s more important what direction the economy is heading– up versus flat or down– more so than the actual trajectory. Obviously, if that upward slope was greater, Obama would be in much better shape, but just the fact that it is up at all seems to be, surprisingly, to his advantage.