September 11, 2004


Who will insure Bill Clinton now? (Marshall Loeb, 9/10/04,

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

That famous quadrennial question was originally put by Republican challenger Ronald Reagan to Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter in the presidential election debates of 1980.

In the debates for 2004, you can be sure that Democratic challenger John Kerry will put the same crucial question to Republican incumbent George Bush. And the outcome of the election could depend on how America's voters answer that question.

The answer is not clear-cut. It depends largely on which economic data you use, and how you interpret them.

One expert who has a commanding knowledge of those numbers is David Wyss (rhymes with "geese"), the eminent chief economist at Standard & Poor's. He keeps an economic model that aims to forecast the presidential election vote based on changes in the past year of four key economic numbers that determine whether voters are indeed better off.

The most important indicator, he said, is the change in the unemployment rate, because the most important question on a voter's mind is, "Do I have a job?"

The other year-over-year indicators that Wyss incorporates are the growth in real income, the change in the core inflation rate (as measured by the consumer price index) and the change in oil prices.

One month ago, the last time we checked in with Wyss and his model, he figured that the first three indicators favored Bush. The unemployment rate was down from a year ago, personal income was strong and core inflation was down. Only the change in oil prices -- way up in a year -- worked against the incumbent president.

After crunching the numbers, Wyss concluded that the Republicans stood to win a commanding 54 percent of the two-party presidential vote.

So where do things stand now?

Bush is still farther ahead, according to Wyss. "Bush has gained one point from a month or two ago, mainly because the unemployment rate [which is 5.4 percent of the labor force] is coming down faster than I had expected," he said.

In sum, just about all the key numbers suggest that people should be feeling better off than they did four years ago.

Can you imagine how badly Karl Rove wants the Senator to ask that question? First the President reels off a few economic numbers, but then he says: "And lets recall why we're having to rebuild the economy. Four years ago, under the previous administration, the Taliban and al Qaeda were still running Afghanistan, Saddam was still running Iraq, Colonel Qaddafi was still developing nuclear weapons, and the terrorists who would attack us on 9-11 had already entered the United States and burrowed in. Though our loss of life was horrific on 9-11 and the impact on our economy catastrophic, we are an awakened nation and we are certainly better off than we were four years ago because we are on the offensive against terrorism all over the globe."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 11, 2004 4:40 PM
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