James Pethokoukis

Politics and policy from inside Washington

If economy improves, does GOP have a plan B?

June 8, 2009

Over at NRO, my pal Ramesh Ponnuru looks at all the green shoots and mustards seeds and wonders the following:

Are Republicans and conservatives overinvesting in pessimism about the recession? … If Republicans keep up this approach and the economy does begin to recover in a way that registers with voters by the 2010 elections, then Obama and the Democrats will … be able to say that their take on the economy was superior to that of the Republicans—and that claim will reinforce impressions that their stimulus was responsible for any improvement (whether or not it actually was). … I think Republicans would be better advised to say that there are some good signs, none of which seem connected to liberal policies, and that those policies threaten to increase inflation before too long. …  In 1993 too many Republicans resisted Clinton’s tax increases by claiming that they were not merely likely to reduce long-term growth below what it would otherwise have been but that they were incompatible with economic growth at all. When the economy recovered, they were discredited and the recovery was attributed to Clinton’s policies. Let’s not make the same mistake this time around.

Me:  My guess is that unemployment will still be pretty high a year from now and real estate hardly booming. As far as how the economy might affect the electorate, what I do know is that there is lag between economic performance and economic perceptions that is greater than many might assume. Let me point out one example, the 1994 midterm elections after the 1990-91 recession:

Even though the economy had then been growing for 14 straight quarters and the unemployment rate was down to 5.8 percent, 72 percent of Americans still thought the economy was “fair” or “poor” and 66 percent though the nation was headed in the wrong direction.  That’s right 3 1/2 years after the 1990-91 recession ended, the economy was still weighing negatively on voters and hurting the incumbent political party.

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