Friday, November 20, 2009

An exchange with Ross Douthat

NY Times columnist Ross Douthat picked up on my earlier post about unemployment and midterm elections. He disagrees with my finding, arguing that high unemployment could really hurt the Democrats next fall. As he writes,
In the last 50 years, there’s only been one midterm election fought with unemployment above 8 percent, let alone 10. (That would be 1982, when Reagan’s Republicans lost 22 House seats.) The sample size of relevant races is way too small to draw any useful generalizations, in other words, and it’s better to fall back on common sense — which tells us, I think, that if you pass a $780 billion stimulus package and then find yourself campaigning two years later amid 10 percent unemployment, you should expect to take a drubbing.
This was my response:
I agree with you that the lack of historical cases with very high unemployment should give us some humility in predicting next year's election. Indeed, predicting any election a year out is a shaky proposition. So, as you say, it's better to fall back on common sense.

As it happens, the average midterm seat loss for the president's party over the past sixty years is 22 seats. So if we knew nothing else about next year's election, the Democrats losing 22 House seats would be a reasonable guess. The fact that the one case with unemployment over nine percent (1982) produced precisely the average number of seat losses suggests that unemployment really isn't a factor. Add to that the fact that six midterm elections since 1950 saw larger losses for the president's party even while unemployment was much lower.

The Democrats could experience a large-scale drubbing next year, or not. But there's little evidence to suggest that unemployment will be the cause.


Kim Dionne said...

zinger! love it.

Stephen A. Nuño said...

lol.. i love that I troll the blogs and find a friend trolling the same sites...