Thursday, June 24, 2004

Play to your strengths or the other guy's weaknesses? 

Since I said I would venture into more economics here, let me put out one to see who salutes...

The Commissioner Hugh Hewitt has called attention to a USAToday editorial that tells Kerry what I said months ago: his middle class misery index is a crock of la merde:
Kerry's downbeat economic talk may be inevitable for a candidate challenging an incumbent's record in the wake of a recession. But as the economy blooms, his index's credibility is wilting

...By talking down the economy, Kerry may hope to pick up votes in economically struggling states where the November election may be decided. But in doing so, he risks sounding out of touch with millions of Americans who see signs of an improving economy -- and want a president with a sunnier outlook. The recent death of former president Ronald Reagan recalls just how powerful an optimistic message can be.

That was yesterday. Today in a frontpage article, McPaper says that the economic indicators are only one of six indicators out there, and that the six are split 3-to-3. The biggest Bush positive right now is the economy, as Ray Fair notes. But look at the three they cite as favoring Kerry:
  1. Bush's favorable/unfavorable rating. But that really depends on who's doing the asking. Look at Real Clear Politics' survey and tell me whether it's clear Bush is under 50%. Even USAToday has to say it's not the same as Carter or Bush 41.
  2. Ohio. That's stronger; Kerry has made a number of appearances in the state and has two polls giving him leads. But the unemployment rate in Ohio is dropping, to 5.6% in May. When I did my dissertation twenty years ago on political business cycles, one of the things I showed was that it wasn't the level of inflation or unemployment that mattered as much as the rate of change. I doubt that relationship has changed. With continued growth expected, look for Ohio's job numbers to continue to improve. I think I gave Ohio to Bush in our private pick-the-states contest with Hugh last January, and I still think that will be right.
  3. Kerry's taller than Bush. Seriously. In order to gin up the story to make it a 3-3 tie, they had to rely on an indicator sillier than Kerry's miserable Misery Index. Note to USA Today: If you really believe that, will you bet your rent payment on the stock market if the NFC wins the Super Bowl next year? Fuhgeddaboudit.
But to the question in the title, and to Hugh's post. A few months ago I said that for Kerry to win the election he would have to run on the economy and hope the recession continued to linger, or at least have the media trumpet bad times. That has clearly not played, despite the campaign's attempt to spin the data to its suiting. Even the USAToday has punted that one. So they are left looking for some signs. As David Wyss notes at the end of the AP article discussing the role of the economy in the campaign, challengers do not make much headway in reminding people of economic troubles two years ago:
Most of our historical work suggests that voters have very short memories and it is really the last year that dominates their thinking with employment tending to be the best variable to predict the outcome.
And when the graph looks like this... aren't going to do too well. So they have to keep looking for space within which Kerry can campaign.

He isn't going to win on the economy, and he can't veer far left on the war. And height won't do. So my other prediction from this is that either Kerry has to play to his own strengths, which he tried earlier in the year and didn't gain much traction, or he has to go more negative on Bush. I'm saying he does the latter.