The limits of economic determinism

Today’s mildly encouraging jobs report produced plenty of speculation about what the numbers mean for the congressional elections that are now only six months away. Politico, for example, titled its story on the jobs report “Jobs up, good news for President Obama.”
Long-time Power Line readers probably know that, to a degree that’s perhaps unseemly for a conservative, I’m an economic determinist when it comes to presidential elections. As such, it would seem foolish for me to dispute the importance of the economy, and especially the job outlook, in mid-term elecitions as well.
Yet, it’s clear that a bad economy is not a prerequisite for a landslide victory in congressional elections by the out-of-power party. The last two such elections were in 1994 and 2006. Neither election occurred in the context of an ailing economy. In November 1994, we were about three years past one recession and the better part of a decade away from the next one. In November 2006, the economy was chugging along nicely, with the great recession a year away.
There would seem to be no hope that, in November 2010, the economy will be in anywhere near as good shape as it was in 1994 or 2010. And even if the job situation is considerably better than it is now, I doubt this will be enough to prevent the Democrats from taking a substantial hit.
That’s because I doubt that the upcoming election will be mainly about the economy. Instead, I believe it will be mainly about voter frustration stemming from the justified perception that the party in power isn’t listening to the will of the people. This sentiment was the common denominator of the 1994 and 2006 elections, and it should apply with at least equal force this time around.
President Obama created the false (if unreasonable) hope of a “post-partisan” adminiistration. He has instead delivered a left-liberal regime so partisan that it produced revoluationary change in the most important segment of the economy without the support of a single Republican legislator. The electorate can be expected to respond by simultaneously sending a message of disapproval and making a run at depriving the Democrats of the power to impose the rest of their left-wing agenda.
This is not to say that the rate of improvement in the economy over the coming months doesn’t matter. Voters certainly will be more angry if unemployment remains at 9.7 percent than if it declines to, say, 7.7 percent. Thus, Republicans can expect to pick up more seats in the former scenario than in the latter. But right now it’s dificult for me to see a plausible economic scenario that wuold prevent the Dems from suffering a major blow in November.


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