John raised this question during the session we did last week for our VIP subscribers. He recalled the time, not long ago at all, when political scientists could successfully predict the outcome of presidential races based primarily on a few economic indicators. Can it be, John asked, that things have changed so much that the Trump economy won’t see the president and the GOP through?
In considering this question, we should distinguish between the mid-term congressional election in 2018 and the presidential election in 2020. I don’t believe mid-terms have been nearly as susceptible as presidential races to successful forecasting based on the state of the economy.
If I recall correctly, the economy was doing quite well in 1986 under President Reagan when the Republicans lost the Senate. It was recovering nicely in 1994 under President Clinton when the Democrats were trounced.
The economy was still fine in 2006 under President Bush when the GOP experienced a mid-term “thumping.” And the economy wasn’t doing poorly enough in 2010 and 2014 to explain the magnitude of the two Obama-era “shellackings” inflicted on the Dems.
Thus, I don’t believe Republicans can count on the current strong economy to carry them to success this year. However, I do think that if the economy keeps building steam, it will offset to some extent the factors favoring the Democrats — e.g., the Dems’ enthusiasm edge and the appeal of divided government, heightened, perhaps, by Trump’s obnoxious persona.
What about 2020? That year, I believe a strong economy would propel Trump to victory, or at least make him the favorite absent a huge (and genuine) scandal or a foreign policy or national security disaster.
However, we don’t know how the economy will be performing in 2020. By then, it will have been 12 years since the last recession (assuming there is none this year or next). That’s abnormal.
Maybe, though, the sluggishness of the Obama recovery and the momentum Trump’s policies has generated mean that the economy will hum along through 2020. If it does, there’s a good chance the economy will trump Trump.