Ezra Klein is out today with an article on the factors that actually predict the outcome of presidential elections. And surprise, surprise the answer isn’t “who loves America the most” or “who looks best with his sleeves rolled up.” In other words, the things that pundits love to talk about.
No, Klein claims that there are three factors that affect who wins the Oval Office: growth in the economy, the sitting President’s approval rating and whether or not one of the candidates happens to be the President. Lets break this down one-by-one using science, or as I call it, intuition and sarcasm.
The economy. It’s retaken center stage as the most important issue in politics. For a while there in the 00’s (the aughts? the zeros? the oh-ohs?) national security was top dog, but no longer. People care about their job and their finances more than anything. To paraphrase esteemed political thinkers the Wu-Tang Clan, cash rules everything around them. Folks vote with their wallet. Now, whether or not a President can do all that much to affect the economy is not all that clear, but that’s a discussion for another post.
On to approval rating. This one is kind of a no-brainer. Oh, so you’re saying if people approve of the President, they are more likely to vote for him? Thanks for the insight guys, never would have thought of that. I guess if we are talking about two non-incumbents, that one becomes a little less obvious. Anyway, the President’s approval indicates voters’ happiness with the party in charge. Low approval for the head of a party means worse chances for his party mates in the election. This is especially true given the parties’ monolithic (I’m not going to baby you guys anymore. If you don’t know a word, look it up. You’re already on the Internet, it isn’t that hard) platforms and emphasis on conformity.
Finally, incumbency. People don’t like change. Unless there is a problem that is so glaring that ignoring it would be more effort than fixing it, people tend to let things be. Plus, who is more presidential than the President. I already know he loves America and looks good in a flannel shirt, because a bunch of people already voted for him.
Scandals though, like leaving your dog up on your car roof or a few security agents getting weird down in Colombia, don’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things. And you know what? I’m ok with that.