Will the Economy Help Democrats or Republicans More Next Year?

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Paul Krugman notes that there wasn’t much talk about the economy in last night’s debate. Why not?

The chart shows private-sector job gains after two recessions — the 2001 recession, and the 2007-2009 Great Recession — ended, in thousands. You can argue that the economy should have bounced back more strongly from the deeper slump; on the other hand, 2008 was a huge financial crisis, which tends to leave a bad hangover.

….Now, am I claiming that Obama caused all that job creation? No — policy was pretty much hamstrung from 2010 on….Recovery should have been much faster, and I believe that there is still more slack than the unemployment rate suggests. But if President Romney were presiding over this economy, Republicans would be hailing it as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. Instead, they’re trying to talk about something else.

How is the economy going to play in the 2016 campaign? It’s a bit of a mystery at two different levels:

  • There’s the poli-sci model level, where the state of the economy is a background factor that affects the vote. A good economy helps the party in power, a bad economy helps the party out of power. Right now, though, the economy is in the middle: not bad, but not great. Next year, when we start plugging numbers into the models, they’re probably going to show a tight race.
  • Then there’s the campaign level, where candidates actively offer economic proposals (and criticisms) that they think will resonate with voters. Hillary Clinton will have a hard time here, since “it could have been worse” is not a winning slogan. Nor is “Republicans would be crowing if they had done it.” But it’s going to be hard to brag on the economy when it’s only in modestly good shape.

If Jeb Bush is the nominee, he’ll be blathering about 4 percent growth and claiming that anyone who says that’s impossible is just a defeatist who’s given up on America. Unfortunately, a lot of voters will probably believe him, because voters generally believe anything a candidate says. And Hillary won’t be able to fight back much, since it really would make her look like a defeatist. Luckily, “4 percent growth” is a fairly abstract concept to most people, and probably isn’t a great campaign slogan in the first place.

In the end, I suspect the economy will be in one of those middle states where it’s just not that big a deal in the campaign and won’t help either candidate much. Instead, the big campaign issues are going to be more specific: stuff like Obamacare, Common Core, ISIS, Clinton/Bush Derangement Syndrome, etc. Unless something big happens over the next 12 months, it’s going to be one of those grind-it-out campaigns based on small-ball issues, foreign policy, and GOTV mechanics. Lotsa fun, no?

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