Will pocketbooks pick the president?
Big edge for Obama if the economy – statistically sour – motivates voters, say modelers.
The economy is in poor shape. So Democratic Sen. Barack Obama will win the November election with 51.5 percent of the two-party vote.Skip to next paragraph
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At least that is what Yale University economist Ray Fair predicts, based on a model that uses mathematics and economic data going back to the 1916 presidential election. It assumes voters make their presidential choices in large measure on the status of their pocketbooks.
"The economy seems to matter" in elections, says Professor Fair, in an understatement. So he suggests Senator Obama should push economic issues as he campaigns in the months ahead. And he figures that the Democratic candidate would win with a higher margin if the economy were more clearly in recession this year.
Another model put together more recently figures Mr. Obama, rather than squeaking to victory, will win with a sweeping majority of 54.8 percent of the two-party vote.
Both Fair and Chris Varvares, president of Macroeconomic Advisers, the St. Louis-based consulting firm that put together the other model, concede that other factors beside the economy do matter in this year's election.
Tax policies, Iraq, race, globalization, conservative radio, and consumer perceptions may influence the vote, notes Mr. Varvares.
These otherfactors, says Fair, may account for his model's margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, plus or minus.
Nonetheless, after recognizing that an incumbent president has an advantage, the two models depend on the economic numbers for their results and have done better than many sophisticated political analysts in their predictive ability.
Varvares says his model gets it right in 12 out of the last 14 presidential elections.
Both models had trouble with the electoral battle between Vice President Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. The actual nationwide vote favored Gore, as the models predicted, but the models didn't take account of the electoral vote and the Supreme Court decision.
Since the economy probably is vitally important to the fall election, here's some news on its status from last week, news that will probably be cherry-picked by both parties for the favorable bits or unfavorable elements:
•The Census Bureau reported that real median household income (after inflation) climbed 1.3 percent between 2006 and 2007 to reach $50,233; the official poverty rate last year was 12.5 percent, not statistically different from the year before; and the number of people without health insurance declined from 47 million in 2006 to 45.7 million in 2007. Adjusting for inflation, median income in 1999, the year before the last recession, was statistically the same as in 2007, but up 29.7 percent since 1967.