Another Look At Bush’s Win

Pat Lynch

Greetings, and thanks to Lynne for allowing me to do a little posting here at Knowledge Problem.

Pundits, politicians, and friends of mine have been picking over the exit poll data that have shown a remarkable turnout among core Republican voters, especially evangelical Christians. A lot has been made about how this election fundamentally changes the way the Democrats have to do business because they have to reach out to voters on values rather than rely on their core issues.

While that may be true, I think we’ve really all lost sight of something important here. Bush won an election he SHOULD HAVE WON by a slightly lower margin than history would suggest. The economy mattered, just like it has for 132 years, in presidential elections. Don’t kid yourself and buy into this “the economy is awful,” crap. Unemployment is at historical lows, inflation is on life support, GNP growth has been great. By any measure, we’re in great shape compared to the economies our fathers, mothers, grandfathers, and grandmothers faced. In virtually every election since the end of the Civil War incumbent presidents in comparable situations have won re-election.

As a background for this check out this article I did 5 years ago on the impact of the economy on U.S. presidential elections since 1872 for Political Research Quarterly. For those of you with lives who choose not to read it, the basic gist is easy – the economy has mattered since 1872 because politicians have campaigned on the economy and voters have linked economic performance to political activity.

I’m libertarian and the assertion that politicians can “manage” the economy bugs me. But I don’t deny political reality. Politicians have spent a lot of time convincing voters that they can create jobs and “grow” the economy. I certainly agree that they can do a lot to kill off economic growth, but I take issue with the conventional view that economic prosperity is linked to government management of economic policy.

However the broader point I’d like to make is that 2004 represents a return to the historical patterns that we did not see in 2000. You may remember that forecasters in political science got a lot of flak in the press because they got 2000 wrong. Most models, including mine, predicted a healthy Gore victory in the popular vote, which was quite small. I should say right now that I’m not a forecaster per se. My interests have always been in the underlying theory of why voters use the economy, not so much what we can predict on election day from that. Because that’s the case I argued to several journalists that 2000 might have been the beginning of a fundamental change in how voters react to the link between presidents and the economy.

Take yourself back 6 years. Clinton was in the middle of his term. The economy was humming along, and Clinton was in the midst of a huge scandal regarding his, well, appetite. The Republican Congress was preventing him from either “managing” the economy or passing any large spending programs. The guy who most people pointed to for the success of the American economy was Alan Greenspan, who is not elected. In short, I thought it was quite possible that voters would have looked at the 2000 election as a fundamental break from the notion that actively managed fiscal politics mattered for economic growth. We had, I thought, seen the emergence of a monetary model of politics where voters would no longer reward and punish incumbents based on growth and prosperity.

Now let’s think about the past four years. Any illusion that the government is not trying, aggressively, to manage the economy is gone. Bush has laid claim to the legacy of FDR and LBJ by taking full responsibility for economic growth three ways. His tax cuts and huge increases in domestic spending are fundamentally Keynesian and reinforce the idea that the government can spend it’s way out of this “soft patch.” Second, he’s started huge transfer programs to select groups to help “save” jobs. Third, he’s gotten us into a war which typically spends a lot of money and creates a lot of jobs. And he talked about all three a lot during the campaign. In short, any monkey can now see a link between government policies and the economy, and what did we see last Tuesday? An incumbent, running on a relatively strong economy won re-election because he took credit for successfully managing the economy. Sure he said we need to get more job creation, but let’s be serious, this is not 1980.

In summary I think Democrats should probably take it easy on themselves and realize that this election was a long shot from the beginning. Iraq is no Vietnam, and GNP growth has been very robust. However the electoral map they face gives me pause. Republicans are clearly in a much better position in the long run. They’ve stolen the Democrats monopoly on spending money domestically and have a strong religious base. But to me it’s an open question what a recession will do to the base. Furthermore, how long will fiscal conservatives stay with the GOP if we get four more years of oceans of red ink? This much I do know, the economy still matters a lot, and that ought not to be lost on both sides in 2008.


13 thoughts on “Another Look At Bush’s Win

  1. Very interesting post … I take the point of view that Bush should have won by a significantly wider margin given the economy and the global chaos. I think that the econometric forecasts by Fair and company suggest that Bush was about 5 to 6 points under expectations.

    I also think we need to remember that politics is about one thing – values. It is not surprizing to find that it all came down to values. Values concerning prosperity, security and hope for a better future. In the end American’s chose one set over another.

    Democrats should recognize that in a two party system somebody has to lose and they did this time. End of discussion.

    Let’s get back to building a brighter future.

  2. Aside from the text in corporate annual reports, the statement “politics is about one thing – values” is the least true statement I have read in some time.

    Politics is about getting elected. (period)

    Ethics and morals have something to do with values, but on this planet, politics intersecting with values is a rare event.

    John Powers

  3. I take issue with Pat Lynch’s claims that “inflation is on life-support” and that the economy is experiencing “robust growth.”

    First of all, let’s look at the most obvious indicator: In the past two years, the value of the U.S. dollar has _plummeted_ relative to other currencies, to the point that it is now worth barely more that _half_ of what it was two years ago relative to the Euro. This is _NOT_, repeat =NOT= a sign of a “robust economy,” but rather a sign that the U.S. economy has entered a hyper-inflationary spiral.

    Second, the FedGov computes their “Official” inflation-rate from the “Consumer Price Index,” which uses a perverse methodology that includes surprisingly few things that “ordinary people” actually _buy_; neither does the CPI accurately reflect either the cost of housing, nor the cost of medical care. The CPI therefore seriously underestimates the true “cost of living” by a significant factor, and seriously distorts the actual price-changes consumers have experienced, and the affect that they have had on their own “bottom line.” An alternate measure presented by George J. Paulos at http://www.gold-eagle.com/editorials_04/paulos090904.html suggests that the true rate of inflation is at least _DOUBLE_ and climbing over what the FedGov claims the “Official Truth” is; Greg Burns makes similar observations in his article in the 2004-Mar-28 issue of the _Chicago Tribune_. Many other indicators likewise suggest that the U.S.A. is actually headed for a period of “stagflation,” as Bush’s runaway deficit spending poisons the U.S. economy, while the ramp-up of China’s economy drives up prices worldwide.

    Third, the “Official” unemployment figures distort the true rate of joblessness, as persons who have been out of work for an estended period of time are “officially” moved from the ranks of the “unemployed but still looking” official classification to the “not in the labor-force” official classification.

    In summary, the claim that the U.S. economy is experiencing “robust growth” appears highly implausible; the counterclaim that the U.S. economy is entering a period of high inflation and joblessness — AKA “stagflation” — appears far more plausible.

    Or in plain, everyday english: The economy actually _sucks_, and the FedGov is _lying through their teeth about it_!!!

    See also http://www.zetetics.com/mac/blog/00000401.html and http://www.lewrockwell.com/reese/reese130.html

  4. Wow! Strong statements. The truth is probably in between, eh?

    I wouldn’t bet the Farm on either Pat or gdp’s version of what was going on.

    So Pat I hate to tell you this, but the Dems DO have to worry VERY hard about who they’ve given the controls of their party to. The ultra-left wing, Hollywood / Metro / George Soros crowd not only won’t win them elections, but these folks don’t represent their constituency at all, AND now they’ve allowed a hard RIGHT wing backlash that will be a problem in itself. A right wing faction that in fact WASN’T who we were electing, we were just making sure that this sorely mistaken, totally unacceptable candidate DIDN’T get elected.

    The Dems should be ashamed. A moderate Democratic candidate would have been elected.

    Truth is, life IS harder. And yeah, unemployment is down but a lot of what Kerry said was true, the jobs are poor ones -he just had no real solutions himself (though his fatal poison was that he can’t support his own country during peacetime OR wartime), his support base, swinging crowd is an amoral bunch that would rather mock the people in the heartland than try to find out why we think values are so critical.

    Why SHOULD we have taken a chance on the entire future of this country on ‘him’?. I woke up every morning during the last year of that campaign with my grandfather’s voice telling me not to let that happen. His generation lived like pack mules and handed down a country too great for us to blow it. Between the two, Bush was the closest to the values that we know to work.

    Everyone on the planet is free to mis-interpret why the people in the heartland voted the way they did, but THIS is it. And if the Dems want to adopt an ongoing fight, and worsen the split, they’ll make it even worse.
    What we need now is an emergency rush to the center to prevent as much as of the hard Right response from claiming mandate (that they didn’t get). That’s done by telling the Super Left stars (Pelosi,Kennedy,Kerry) to go the back of the room and shut up, they’ve done their best, and giving no-one any excuse to be anything but co-operative.

    Trust me, us “Folks” expect exactly ALL of this.

    I think that the most beautiful thing of all is that while some wondered how 59M people could be that Dumb, I swear that it’s the opposite. 59M people were that wise.
    When you talk to people in the coffee shops, they completely understood the whole thing -big picture and all. These are my Democratic and Republican friends. We would discuss the ebb and tide of the campaign, and wonder whether the minor issues would override the dominant ones (look at all the forces that aggravate that). In a nearly complete vacuum of coherent discussion that took ANYTHING deeper than say, 8 words deep, they got to the principle issues that define their values and priorities. (no thanks to the media).

  5. John, you are confusing the means with the end. Getting elected is the instrumnental objective of a politician. He/she presents a set of values for people to select. People select a politician based upon a platform not to elect someone for the sake of it.

  6. The economy is growing employing the metrics we typically track. It is certainly plausible to to select another set that paints a picture of gloom and doom.

    The problem of the ages is to develop the “best” model of the economy not the one that “best” describes our current emotional state. Some of the posts appear to be describing emotional states rather than reality.

    With that being said, I would offer that we are facing economic challenges that must be addressed. The budget is out of control and must be tackeled. The war in Iraq is not the problem with the budget, it’s the vast number of mandated programs. Bush needs to move on spending in a material way. In addition, Americans must resist the tempation to turn every sob story (presented by the media) into a government program.

  7. The economy is growing employing the metrics we typically track. It is certainly plausible to to select another set that paints a picture of gloom and doom.

    The problem of the ages is to develop the “best” model of the economy not the one that “best” describes our current emotional state. Some of the posts appear to be describing emotional states rather than reality.

    With that being said, I would offer that we are facing economic challenges that must be addressed. The budget is out of control and must be tackeled. The war in Iraq is not the problem with the budget, it’s the vast number of mandated programs. Bush needs to move on spending in a material way. In addition, Americans must resist the tempation to turn every sob story (presented by the media) into a government program.

  8. I think that Pat Lynch and commenter Yoda are both right. I think it’s clear that the war in Iraq depressed Bush’s numbers. Without it he’d have won by the margin predicted by the Fair Model. And Democratic primary voters picked their best, most-electable candidate, the Democrats outspent the Republicans, had the MSM pulling for them, registered large numbers of voters and got them to the polls. And Mr. Kerry still lost the election.

    And Democrats have every reason to believe that if they follow the same process the next time around, continue to outspend the Republicans, and put on their best ground game, they’ll lose by an even larger margin. It’s not that their not executing their game plan well.

  9. “People select a politician based upon a platform not to elect someone for the sake of it”
    might be the second least likely statement I have read in this discussion.

    By my estimation, people select a politician based primarily on family traditions and geography, with “values” and “platform” falling somewhere below hairstyles and speech patterns near the bottom of the list.

    JBP

  10. “People select a politician based upon a platform not to elect someone for the sake of it”
    might be the second least likely statement I have read in this discussion.

    By my estimation, people select a politician based primarily on family traditions and geography, with “values” and “platform” falling somewhere below hairstyles and speech patterns near the bottom of the list.

    JBP

  11. JBP’s point that the party isn’t “supposed” to be electing a person but a party that represents an agenda is one of the things that I was stumping.

    If Kerry does in fact represent the Democratic Party constituency’s agenda (I don’t think he does), he didn’t show it or emphasize it. He tried to RECITE some of it, but it came off as hollow as it was. (maybe you could make some wise phrases like “If you’re not a duck hunter, don’t photo-op like one -the people won’t be fooled”, or “If you don’t belong to a Black folks’ church, stow the photo ops -go to your own church”)

    He -and the rest of the few that have been at the control of the Democratic Party’s agenda have been nuzzled up to the Hollywood crowd, the “Micheal Moores”, and the Metro elite for all of the preceding years. And with a populus who feels under seige from all directions: real security, liberal groups like those who are trying to bleach all reference to religion from society, and who live and sponsor what can only be described as pretty decadent, destructive lifestyles -he’s chosen the wrong friends. But to the “dumb 59M” point: the people are a little smarter than that. (Truth be known: no-one should tell John Kerry who his friends should be. The Democratic Party simply owed it to it’s constituency to pick a moderate who represented their agenda and values.)

    The question about what is this “moral values” thing? Well it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t a campaign issue, it was a post-election poll issue, i.e. it was an expression from the people. And now, a individual factions want to define it for their own aims.

    So of course statistically it will mean a spectrum of issues, but it’s NOT the narrow Religious Right agenda at all. If some News Org has the gumption to get out of their chairs and go around the country and actually talk to living people, they’ll find out:
    – Rich, drug addicted, spoiled Hollywood stars are no more qualified to comment of world events than any other high school graduate. The parents in this country are sick of the influence they have on our children. If Madonna wants to save the world, she could start repairing the damage she’s done to 50 million young kids lives just so she could get rich. Multiply that by ~1000 Hollywood ‘artists’
    – The ACLU /liberal / activist judges crusade to remove references to “God” in the name of a Constitution that refers to God, subjugating the vast majority for whim of a radical few who are enduring no harm is undermining the foundation of our society.
    – Forcing taxpayers to pay for activities that they believe are killing of viable humans, when those activities are NOT fundamental functions of Government (i.e. embryonic stem cell research funding by taxpayers), is wrong. It’s one thing to make people contribute for legitimate functions of government, but for elective non-govt functions should have a much harder test to pass.

    OK, so I meant to paint a picture of an environment where people are concerned about heavy issues of core values.
    When I hear the Dems squeak back “well, employment and environment are moral issues too”, I think of my 5th grade son trying to dig up the first excuse he can from getting caught lying. In other words, -Nope. Save that one for the next dummy.

    sorry for the length

  12. Yoda — Neither the U.S. Constitution nor its Amendments make any mention of the word “God.”

    Perhaps you have confused the Constitution with the Declaration of Independence, which makes a single oblique reference to a “creator” — albeit you should bear in mind that its author, Thomas Jefferson, was a deist and a Unitarian, not a theist or a “mainstream” christian, and that he once edited an addition of the “Bible” in which all references to supernatural phenomena and to the divinity of Jesus had been expunged — so he is really not a very good “poster child” for the “Religious Right”…

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