Will We Have a 'Fair' Election in 2012?
The two questions GOP primary voters are trying to answer -- and balance -- are the same two that dominate every primary season: (1) which candidate best represents the one's principles, and (2) which has the best chance of beating the Democrat?
But here's a third question that no one seems to be asking: what if it doesn't matter?
Ray C. Fair is an economics professor at Yale and the creator of the Presidential Vote Equation. Professor Fair has been actively using his equation, back-tested on presidential elections going back to 1916 and continuously tweaked, since the election of 1980 to predict which party would win the White House (or to be more precise, whether the Democratic Party would win or lose, meaning that the GOP would lose or win, respectively). And as the accompanying chart shows, he has done so with an impressive record of accuracy.
Of eight elections predicted, Fair's equation got six, or 75 percent, "right." But note that the only significantly wrong prediction was Bush-Clinton '92, where Fair's equation was off by 10.5 percent -- an election that included a strong third-party candidate, Ross Perot, which conceivably could have "polluted" the predictability of an equation formulated on the assumption of a two-candidate race. Indeed, the equation did much better on the only other "mispredicted" election, Bush-Gore 2000. Yes, Fair's equation got that one "wrong," but look at the error: just 0.5 percent. Given an error that small in an election as nail-bitingly close as Bush-Gore 2000, where one candidate won the popular vote and another the electoral vote, I think we can fairly cut Professor Fair some slack here, too.
Bottom line: vote for the candidate of your choice (indeed, Professor Fair voted for Kerry in '04, at the same time that his equation was predicting a Bush victory), but absent a close election, I would take whatever result the PVE predicts for 2012 very, very seriously.
And what does the Presidential Vote Equation predict for 2012? I'll reveal the answer presently, but first, an important fact to understand about the PVE. The equation uses only economic data and the length of time the incumbent party has held the White House. The equation does not look at public opinion polls; it takes no notice of geopolitical events (with the major exception of whether the nation is at peace or war), nor does it consider scandal or anything else, including the candidates' political philosophies and positions on particular issues.
When James Carville famously said in Bush-Clinton '92 that "it's the economy, stupid," he didn't know the half of it. For the clear message of Professor Fair and his PVE is that not only is it the economy, stupid. It is always the economy, in every election.
Am I forgetting something? Ah, yes: the PVE's prediction for Election 2012. Now keep in mind that between now and Election Day, Fair will constantly monitor the economic data that fuel his equation and re-run the equation as the variables change. I therefore highly recommend that interested American Thinkers visit Fair's site occasionally for the equation's latest prediction.
And now, here, on our stage, as promised (drum roll, please), is what the PVE is predicting for 2012 as of January 28 (emphasis mine):
For a moderately growing economy, which the US model is now forecasting, the election is predicted to be close. The current US model forecast is probably somewhat more optimistic than consensus, but with slightly slower growth in 2012, the election would still be predicted to be close. If the economy suddenly starts to boom -- say 5 or 6 percent growth -- Obama would be predicted to win by a comfortable amount. If the economy suddenly goes into another recession -- say minus 5 or 6 percent growth -- the Republicans would be predicted to win by a comfortable amount. As of this writing the economy in 2012 looks like it will be ok, but not great, which means a close election -- essentially too close to call. If the economy does turn out to be ok, but not great, and if the election is close, the voting equation will have done well. If instead in this case the election is not close, the equation will have made a large error.
Specifically, the PVE currently projects the Democrat to win 50.3 percent of the "Presidential Vote Share" (VP).
Professor Fair also adds a caveat regarding the recently negotiated payroll tax cut extension, slated to expire this month. Fair's current prediction is predicated on the assumption that Congress will not allow the cut to expire, but instead extend it to the end of 2012. Not extending the payroll tax cut, however, says the PVE, will cost Obama 1.3 points of vote share. And this caveat alone demonstrates the PVE's potential practical value for political strategizing. If congressional Republicans allow Democrats' and the MSM (forgive me if I repeat myself)'s demagoguery to pressure them into extending the payroll tax cut, they could actually be helping Obama and hurting his GOP opponent.
But getting back to the PVE's prediction, delve into the numbers in Fair's paper, and the magic number appears to be 3. If the economy is growing at over 3 percent on Election Day, Obama wins; if it's growing at minus 3 percent, he loses. And at exactly 3 percent, it's anyone's guess -- too close to call.
And herein, if we take the PVE seriously, lies both a dilemma and a warning for congressional Republicans. The dilemma is that, of course, the country must always come before politics. Therefore, if President Obama and the Democrats propose policies and legislation that will substantively, over the long term, boost economic growth and create jobs, we Republicans obviously will have no choice but to support those policies, even if it guarantees a second Obama term.
Not that this writer seriously expects that to happen, and thus the following warning: from this moment until Election Day, congressional Republicans must be on their guard for, and do everything in their power to prevent the enactment of, any temporary measures designed artificially to skoosh the growth numbers up just high enough, and just long enough, to get Obama through the election, after which the economy slows again.
It will especially behoove congressional Republicans to watch for temporary fixes masquerading as permanent ones. Republicans need to be ready to expose such temporary "Band-Aids" for what they are, while at the same time proposing and publicizing, through every available means -- including, one would hope, the GOP presidential candidate, on the campaign trail -- alternative permanent solutions, lest the public clamor for the temporary ones. So if the Democrats propose extending the payroll tax past Election Day, Republicans should at the very lease oppose it. But a much better strategy would be for House and Senate Republicans to introduce legislation making the payroll tax cut permanent and push the Democrats, who will surely balk, into exposing their own proposal as just a temporary election-year ploy.
I would also admonish Republicans to do a better job of exposing the "numbers behind the numbers" whenever Obama and his MSM sycophants tout impressive, but misleading, economic figures. (See here, here, here, here and here.)
Fail to do that, and we face the prospect of a second Obama term and a return to a "pre-manipulation" economy -- but with, I confidently predict, a lot more debt. And remember: government spending counts as a factor in GDP. If the federal government "invests" a gazillion dollars in a bridge to nowhere, it adds a gazillion dollars to GDP. Ditto for earmarks, so let's not vote for any between now and November, okay?
Finally, keeping the all-important 3-percent figure in mind, I leave you with the most recent GDP numbers and their message, which is mixed. In fiscal 2011, the economy grew at 1.7 percent -- according to Fair's equation, not even close to the number needed to reelect Obama. But in the final quarter, it grew at a rate of 2.8 percent. Not enough to guarantee an Obama win, but more than enough to give this writer and, I suspect, a lot of other folks a few sleepless nights between now and November.
On the other hand, as James Pethokoukis reports, replace last quarter's 2.8-percent growth rate with a 2-percent rate, and Obama's predicted 50.3-percent vote share drops to a 47.8 percent and, very probably, a GOP victory.
So stay sharp, keep an eye out for Democratic statistical mischief -- and watch the PVE!