Obama and the 2009 economy

Larry Bartels— one of my favorite political scientists (almost every thing he does, I find myself saying, “I wish I had thought of that”)– has a really interesting post at the Monkey Cage looking at data indicating that presidents seem (based on pretty compelling statistics) by the state of the economy in the year they were elected:

Income growth in the second year of a president’s term is negatively (albeit weakly) related to his party’s subsequent electoral fortunes, while income growth in the year of his inauguration has a strong—and statistically reliable—negative effect.

If true, this is very good news for Barack Obama, because the year of his inauguration, 2009, was one of the worst years on record for American income growth. According to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real disposable income per capita (including wages, investment income, and government transfers, subtracting taxes, and adjusting for inflation) shrank by 3.2% in 2009—the largest decline, by far, in the past half-century. The statistical model implies that that income loss will translate into a gain of more than 7 percentage points in Obama’s expected vote margin in next year’s election…

While the psycho-logic by which voters punish incumbents for good inherited conditions (or reward them for bad inherited conditions) may be obscure, the statistical evidence suggests thatsome process connects temporally remote economic conditions with choices at the polls. This empirical pattern is an embarrassment to analysts—including me—who have argued that voters are overwhelmingly focused on the here and now…

Whatever evidentiary weight one assigns to the empirical analyses reported here, they do underline a fundamental issue in next year’s election. If President Obama is judged primarily on the state of the economy in 2012, the verdict of the electorate is very likely to be a negative one. But if voters, for whatever reason, take into account the disastrous economic conditions Obama inherited from his predecessor, then he is likely to prevail. And if past election outcomes are a reliable guide, voters may indeed temper their unhappiness with economic conditions in 2012 by recalling how much worse things were in 2009.

I especially like Bartels’ humility here, too.  Obama will certainly provide a very interesting test case of this statistical model of elections.  The Democrat in me certainly hopes its accurate.

Photo of the day

NYT has a really cool slideshow of lost (and now found) photos from Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition.

I’ve never read all that much about Scott’s expedition in particular, but I’ve always been intrigued with tales of extreme expeditions.  Seems like a good time to recommend one of my favorite non-fiction books of all time: Endurance by Alfred Lansing.  It’s the amazing tale of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated trip to traverse the entire Antarctic continent.  Bad idea.  Amazing tale of human survival.

Understanding Cain

Sorry if I seem obsessed with Herman Cain, but he’s definitely the most interesting thing politically going on right now.  Far and away the best take I’ve read on the matter so far comes from Chait (I feel like this post should be required reading for journalists covering the campaign).  Longer excerpt than usual, but I kept on wanting to leave more of it:

The question of whether the Herman Cain sexual harassment story will hurt his presidential campaign sort of misses the point that there is no Herman Cain presidential campaign. There are certain things you do when you run for president. You try to raise a lot of money. Cain is not doing that. If you can’t raise a lot of money, you campaign heavily in early primary states, trying to get some early success that can snowball into later primaries. Cain isn’t doing that, either. You hire a staff of political operatives. You at least pretend to know something about world affairs. You try to attract as many people as possible to your events. Cain, by contrast, frequently charges admission.

Cain is executing a business plan. It’s an excellent plan. The plan involves Cain raising his profile as a conservative personality, which he can monetize through motivational speaking, book sales, talk shows, and other media. Cain’s selling point is that he’s a black conservative who can capitalize on the sense of white racial victimization that has mushroomed during the Obama era. Accordingly, Cain assures conservatives that they are not racist, as proven by their support for him. Indeed, it is the liberals who are racist, as evidenced by their opposition to Cain.

If Cain were campaigning to be president, the scandal would hurt him. Since he is instead campaigning to boost his profile, it will help him.

Cain is exploiting a loophole which allows a person to declare their candidacy for president, and then attract free media coverage and participate in nationally televised debates simply because the media can’t prove that they’re not really trying to win. The actual presidential candidates seem to understand this. That’s why they have spared him the vicious attacks that a putative front-runner might be expected to attract, and completely avoided jumping on the latest scandal. If they were worried about Cain winning the nomination, they would be using the issue to sow doubts about him with women and Republican elites concerned about electability.

Yep.  We’ve sort of had candidates like this before, but what seems to be quite different is Cain’s absurdly high standing in the polls and the media treating him like he’s a legitimate contender solely on the basis of these pools, when, as Chait points out, he’s not actually running for president.   Even with his big surge, he’s never even surpassed $10 (i.e., 10% chance of winning) on Intrade, where you actually have to put your money where your beliefs are.  It really is quite a fascinating phenomenon.


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