Economic Indicators And Presidential Elections

Nate Silver has an excellent post up this afternoon about the relationship between economic indicators and the outcome of Presidential elections that’s definitely worth a look. In short, Silver takes 43 separate economic statistics and the results of every Presidential election since 1948 and, well, it turns out that unemployment rates don’t correlate with election outcomes as much as you might think:

Go read the whole article for the analysis which is detailed and simply not capable of being summarized adequately. Nonetheless, Silver’s paragraph immediately below the above chart is worth quoting:

The first thing to notice is that no individual economic variable has an r-squared higher than .46, meaning that none can explain more than half of election results in the post-war period. If you see models that claim to have more explanatory power than this, it is because they are using additional data (like polling) besides economic variables, or because the model has been jury-rigged to maximize its “fit” on past data in ways that will contribute little to its true predictive accuracy. The economy is hugely important to presidential elections, but there are no magic bullets.

Most of all, I think this points out that trying to predict election outcomes isn’t easy to begin with, and that when we say “It’s the economy, stupid,” we’re stating a truism but it’s never quite clear how much the economy is going to determine the outcome of an election.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Political Theory, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Hey Norm says:

    I think what gets lost in the argument that;

    “…since 1940 no incumbent president has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 7.5%…”

    is that since 1940 no incumbent President has been handed an economy like the economy Obama was handed…and according to every poll the public understands that. You cannot name leader that has dug out of a similar situation any faster than Obama has. No current GOP candidate is offering any productive suggestions for digging out any faster than Obama is. And on top of that the GOP’ers seem completely dis-interested in what is without question our biggest threat today…the probable Eurozone collapse.
    There is no question Obama has a struggle in front of him. But the current crop of GOP candidates clowns is making it much easier for him than it should be.

  2. anjin-san says:

    The entire conservative argument against Obama seems to consist of “You are not clearing away the wreckage of the Bush era quickly enough”, combined with selective amnesia about when that wreckage was actually created.

    Good thing for America that a lot of us exist outside of the Foxverse…