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Monday, February 04, 2008

"Bread, Peace, and the 2008 Election"

According to this model of election outcomes, the Republicans can still win the presidential election [I cut quite a bit out of this one, Lane Kenworthy has a lot more details, argument, and supporting graphs in the original post]:

Bread, Peace, and the 2008 Election, by Lane Kenworthy: Douglas Hibbs’ “bread and peace” model has been extremely effective at predicting the outcomes of U.S. presidential elections. ...

There are two main exceptions: 1952 and 1968. ... This is where the “peace” component of the model comes in. In those two years the incumbent (Democratic) party suffered from a large number of American casualties in a war for which it was viewed as responsible — Korea in 1952 and Vietnam in 1968. Those two wars were still relevant in the ensuing elections, in 1956 and 1972, but the incumbent (Republican) party didn’t suffer much because it hadn’t started the wars. ...

What does the model predict for the 2008 election? It’s early yet, but nevertheless interesting to take a look. Through the end of 2007, Hibbs’ ... model projects a victory for the Republican candidate. ...

Surprised? Many citizens and pundits expect a Democratic victory. And seemingly with good reason. The current Republican president is extremely unpopular, the Democrats did very well in the 2006 mid-term elections, Democratic voters appear to be more energized than their Republican counterparts, and the two issues voters say are most important to them, the economy and the Iraq war, seem likely to favor the Democratic candidate. Still, some recent polls (such as this and this and this) suggest a Republican nominee might well defeat either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the general election.

Lots of things could result in a Democrat winning in November. In the context of the Hibbs model there are three relevant scenarios.

  1. The 2008 election is an exception. In politics there are no immutable laws. ...
  2. Like in 1952 and 1968, the incumbent party is hurt by American casualties in a war it initiated. As a result, its candidate receives less than 50% of the two-party vote despite relatively rapid income growth. ...
  3. Income growth slows in 2008. That would reduce the predicted vote share of the incumbent-party (Republican) candidate... At the moment, with the economy teetering on the brink of recession, a slowing of income growth appears extremely likely.

Another possibility is that the model no longer works well. You can see in the first chart above that 1996 and 2000 are not predicted very well by income growth... The model predicts 2004 accurately, but perhaps that is a fluke...

Why might the model no longer work well? One hypothesis is that as a society gets richer, pocketbook issues recede in importance for voters.

A second consideration is that growth of per capita personal income is no longer a useful indicator of how voters have fared economically. In recent decades the bulk of income gains have gone to a small slice of the population — those at the top of the distribution. Measuring growth via an average misses this. ...

If the model’s effectiveness has indeed declined, other factors may matter more in 2008 than they have in the past. Which factors? And with what outcome? Your guess is probably as good as mine.

    Posted by on Monday, February 4, 2008 at 12:09 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (4)

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