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December 01, 2010


A solid and sensible analysis, though I'd quarrel with the statement that "whether Republicans take back the White House will depend on whether the economy turns around, not the quality of their candidates (Palin possibly excepted)." An excellent case can be made that the economy is the single biggest factor influencing re-election of incumbent presidents, but it's far from the only factor.

The model Brendan has most often cited attributes 38% of the historic variability in election results to recent economic growth, but that leaves 62% attributable to other factors. War, terrorist attacks on America, the siphoning-off effect of a third-party candidacy, the relative campaign performances of the candidates and even the possibility that Obama might not be the candidate--any of those could cause the election to go in a direction other than that predicted by the state of the economy.

Conclusion: Brendan's statement will probably turn out to be right, but it's crazy to state it with the degree of certainty he does here.

The R^2 of .38 was just for Q2 GDP growth. The Hibbs Bread and Peace model has an R^2 of .89 with two variables -- these models typically have exceptionally strong explanatory power. See http://douglas-hibbs.com/Election2008/2008Election-MainPage.htm.

Yes, but you're saying in this post that the election will turn on bread only, regardless of peace. Just to take one example, even though the economy may have remained poor, if the United States is attacked in the run-up to the election and Obama responds well and receives the kind of boost in approval that Bush experienced after 9/11, there's an excellent chance he'd be re-elected despite the poor economy. The hubris of unqualified conclusions like "will depend" is an invitation to nemesis--destruction, downfall--or so we are told by Greek tragedies.

Sure, the post implicitly assumes another 9/11 doesn't occur, etc., but for what it's worth the model fits very well just with bread (R^2=.61).

I'm glad Brendan included those words, "for what it's worth." Having a very high R^2 is nice, but it's not adequate to prove causation.

Recall that AFC or NFC Super Bowl victories closely matched the movement of the stock market the following year. In 1978, when that relationship was first noted by sports writer Leonard Koppett, there had been a perfect match for the 12 or 13 Super Bowls that had taken place at that time IIRC. Of course, that relationship was obviously coincidental.

I think a war with North Korea would be more likely than a 9/11 like incident at this point.

R2 is of course absolutely not enough to prove causation, but taken as a whole the political science literature provides convincing evidence that the economy has a causal influence on elections. I don't think there's any debate about this.

I agree with Brendan's analysis. I would add that IMHO the reason almost all presidential challengers seem flawed is that they ARE flawed. I think the main reason Reagan was the greatest President of the last 50 years is that his competition sucked.

For better or for worse, the campaigns and the media typically make these mediocrities seem impressive. In part, that's by downplaying obvious negatives, so much so that many are unaware of them. E.g., do you know which candidate failed to complete a Journalism degree? Which candidate failed to complete a Divinity degree? Which candidate graduated 894th out of a college class of 899? Which VP candidate got F-grade in a class and was almost expelled for boldly copying enormous chunks of someone else’s article?

Palin is an exception. Unlike their treatment of those other mediocre candidates, the media is making her out to be even more unqualified than she is.

Huckabee failed to complete the divinity degree. McCain finished fifth from the bottom at the Naval Academy. Bidn got an F grade in college for not knowing what plagurism is. I'm not sure about the journalism degree.

Gore failed to complete a divinity degree too. But which candidate shot and killed his close friend?

Which candidate shot and killed his close friend? That would be Adlai Stevenson. Can you imagine if a current candidate had such an episode in his or her background? He'd be obliged to go on Oprah, bare his soul, tell how it had changed his life, and generally allow himself to be the subject of unceasing armchair psychiatry.

Gore failed to complete both the journalism degree and the divinity degree.

The terminology of political scientists can be a bit off-putting to the rest of us. Romney's religion is a "weakness" in the sense that it makes him a weaker candidate. But, of course, it's not a weakness in the ordinary sense of the word. Being a Mormon doesn't make someone a less effective President. The weak ones are those voters who happen to be religious bigots.

I wonder whether a different word would be used to describe Obama or Hillary. It sounds un-PC to say that being black or female constitutes a "weakness". In these cases, just as with Romney, the people with a weakness are the bigoted voters.

Re some of those forecasts about Clinton, e.g.:

And a Southern Democratic leader, who asked not to be named, said, "I truly think Clinton, clean and whole and running, could give Bush hell - and still might.

"But he's damaged goods. The Republicans will dig into every cesspool in the country to find stuff against him."

This guy was not entirely wrong. Doesn't negate Mr. Nyhan's point, of course. But it does sit rather oddly in a collection of 'whoops' predictions.

Bill Clinton's philandering provides an example of how the media can help candidates overcome their weaknesses. In 1992, the mainstream media gave very limited coverage to Clinton's womanizing.

E.g., Gennifer Flowers claimed to have telephone recordings from Clinton supporting her allegations that the two had had an affair. I kept waiting for some mainstream media to take copies of the recordings and have some speech expert verify whether or not the recordings really were Clinton. It never happened. Instead, according to wikipedia, "However, news reports at the time speculated that the taped phone conversations between Flowers and Clinton could have been doctored." (emphasis added)

Eventually, Bill acknowledged that he had had an affair with Flowers. So, Flowers' accusation was true and there was evidence to back it up. The media helped Bill to devalue the evidence by speculating that it might be doctored.

As far as I know, the mainstream media never did an aggressive search to find and interview as many Clinton conquests as possible.

Also pretty much unreported was Bill and Hillary Clinton's use of private detectives to unearth negative information on those who were politically inconvenient during the husband’s campaigns for president and his White House tenure.

David -- this comment is full of misstatements:
-As far as I know, the original recordings were never provided by Flowers for analysis. Experts said they might have been doctored, but that the originals had to be examined, and Flowers did not provide them.
-Clinton reportedly admitted to having sex once with Flowers in 1977. She claimed to have had a 12-year affair with him, but there were many errors and inconsistencies in her story. This is part of the reason the media treated her claims skeptically.
-The media hunted extensively for other Clinton affairs, alleged love children, etc. This is very well-known.

Brendan, we agree on most of the facts. It's the interpretations on which we differ.

You and I agree that the original recordings were never provided by Flowers for analysis. I may be wrong, but I don't recall any mainstream media report that they had asked Flowers for copies and been refused. So, I think the reason the recordings weren't provided for analysis is that there was no request to do such an analysis.

You and I also agree that experts said the recordings might have been doctored. IMHO this reflects on the media, not the documents. The reporting of these expert comments was part of the pro-Clinton spin. After all, without examining the recordings, there was no way for an expert to tell whether they were valid. When the media reported these speculations, that helped convince the public to ignore Flowers' evidence and helped Clinton promote the lie that he had never had an affair with Flowers.

I think you and I agree that Clinton admitted to having sex once with Flowers in 1977. (I'm not sure what you mean by "reportedly". Everything we know about politics is from some report.) But, who would believe Clinton? On the basic point of whether they had had sex, she was telling the truth and he was lying.

In addition, given Clinton's other lies about Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, and given Clinton's use of private detectives to squelch other bimbos, I find Clinton a less credible source than Flowers. It's also my memory that Flowers brought forward witnesses who could testify to their close relationship -- something AFAIK that the mainstream media didn't look into 1992.

I think you are correct that the media eventually hunted extensively for other Clinton affairs, alleged love children, etc. However, I don't recall so much of this investigation happening during the campaign in 1992. If the media had hunted extensively at that time, I think they would have found more of the dirt that came out later.

See page 15 of the summary judgment against a Flowers lawsuit against Carville and Stephanopoulos -- CNN reported she wouldn't provide the original tapes: http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/clinton/flowerscarv31004ord.pdf

For why Flowers is not a credible witness, see e.g. this Newsweek story (http://www.newsweek.com/1992/02/02/substance-vs-sex.html):

Gennifer Flowers also has credibility problems. Among them:

Flowers says she met Clinton when covering a political story for KARK-TV, a Little Rock station where she says she worked for two years. But a KARK spokesman says Flowers covered only fluff stories, not politics and not Clinton. Records indicate she worked there less than one year.

Flowers claims she met Clinton at the Excelsior Hotel in 1979 or 1980. The hotel didn't open until late 1982.

Flowers claims Clinton called her on Dec. 11, 1991, and told her to call him after 11 p.m. at the Governor's Mansion. But records show that Clinton was campaigning in Chicago and Florida that day and spent the night in Washington.

Flowers claims to have been part of an opening act for Roy Clark's band and to have joined the band's U.S. and European tours. But her own booking agent says she exaggerated her role.

Flowers claims in Arkansas newspaper profiles to have worked on the TV show "Hee Haw" as one of the cleavage-baring "Hee Haw" girls. But a "Hee Haw" spokesman says she wasn't on the show.

Flowers claims to have taken 50 hours of classes at the University of Arkansas. There is no record of her having attended the school.

Flowers claims to have been Miss Teen-Age America, 1967. She wasn't--that year, or any other.

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