Mitt Romney’s Trend Problem
The GOP has a problem regarding the economy: it is getting better.
I am not a Pollyanna on the economy and certainly recognize that it still has serious problems (e.g., unemployment is still too high). There is also the looming Euro problem that is by no means over and could have serious effects on the US economy this year. However, if we want to look at the politics of the economy at the moment, the Republican nominee, very likely Mitt Romney, is going to have to figure out a way to address the fact that trends at the moment are positive for health of the economy. Romney knows this, so we get (from First Read, h/t: Steve Benen):
In his remarks today, Romney also acknowledged the economy was getting better — something he has said before — and declared that the social safety net needs to be protected.
“And [President Obama]’s going to say the economy is getting better,” Romney said. “Thank heavens it’s getting better. It’s getting better not because of him, it’s in spite of him and what he’s done.”
Note: he is having to acknowledge that “the economy is getting better” (thrice in rapid succession, as Steve Benen notes, in fact).
Yes, Romney can assert that whatever positive news about the economy is “in spite of” the president and not because of the president’s policies, however this situation creates a political difficulty for his campaign because, let’s face facts, it would be politically better for the GOP candidate if the economy was not in recovery of any kind. This is true, by the way, regardless of what is causing current trends.
As John Sides pointed out at the Monkey Cage the other day:
As we’ve noted on the blog many, many times, the most important predictor of presidential election outcomes is the trend in key economic indicators in the year before the election. Although Americans hardly see the economy as healthy, the trend from September into now is the best news Barack Obama could hope for. Now he just needs to hope it continues.
To support his position, Side noted the following from Gallup:
I would also note that the trend line for unemployment for is in the right direction (source):
Yes, unemployment is still high, but the line is going in the right direction. As such, Romney has to argue how he would make that slope of the line steeper. From a campaigning point of view, this makes things harder on him as the challenger because it requires (as per the quote above) the acknowledgment that things are going in the right direction (which helps Obama) and then he has to argue why Obama doesn’t deserve the credit and then get to how he would make it even better. Clearly, this creates a a more convoluted argument than a politician would prefer. Obama, meanwhile can campaign on a) things are getting better, and b) Romney would take us back to the policies that got us into this mess in the first place. This is a clearer message that is easier to package.
Note: the issue here is not who is right or wrong about economic policy, but rather the address how the current trends in the economy affect the incumbent president’s campaign and that of his likely challenger.