The Debt Ceiling Yet Again: A Quick Response to Nate Silver


I don’t think I’d say that Mr. Obama would be likely to benefit politically — but I do think it’s anybody’s guess, and the empirical models that Mr. Sides references tell us very little.

Silver is referring to various models that forecast presidential election outcomes, mostly relying on the state of the economy . But I am not referencing these models.  Go back to the link from within my original post.  I am referencing a 2001 article (gated) by Helmut Norporth and Michael Lewis-Beck.  It isn’t a forecasting exercise.  It relies on 40 years of survey data and finds that the relationship between voters’ assessments of the economy and their support for the incumbent president is not weakened by divided government.

Now, the obvious rejoinder is: this isn’t a simple case of divided government.  It’s a rather unusual fight over the debt ceiling.  So one can argue that political science research doesn’t apply, anything can happen, we don’t know, etc.

Fine.  I still like to have at least a little evidence on my side.  And, at this moment, the evidence suggests that economic downturns redound more to the president and his party than to the opposition.  Perhaps this time will be different.  But “perhaps” is an awfully slender reed for a president who is already facing a difficult reelection race.

4 Responses to The Debt Ceiling Yet Again: A Quick Response to Nate Silver

  1. Prison Rodeo July 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Wait… A “difficult reelection race”?

    Against whom?

    I’ve seen Obama’s (low) approval numbers, and his weak showing against a generic GOP candidate. But I’ve also seen a field of GOPers that are much worse than generic, and the poll numbers that have the public placing the blame for the debt ceiling fiasco squarely at the feet of the GOP.

    I agree with Norpoth, etc. But here, I’m seeing Shutdown II: McConnell Boogaloo. Hell, Clinton even vetoed that bill, and he still came away with the win.

  2. Steve Smith July 15, 2011 at 10:04 am #

    Here’s a credible story: Many factors seem to affect presidential election outcomes. The state of the economy is a dominant factor, which surely reflects its widespread and direct effect on the electorate. Deficits and debt limits are electorally relevant to the extent that they actually affect the economy plus the extent to which elites are persuasive about their causal relation to the economy. And party positions are electorally relevant to the extent that blame and credit for the economy, deficits, and debt limits can be persuasively attributed to the parties. A party with the least popular position on the policy choices is likely to receive the most blame.

    If a debt default harms the economy and Republicans have the least popular policy position (hands off the rich, oppose Plan B, fail to extend payroll tax cut), it is possible that Republicans will receive considerable blame.

    So it is possible that we will have countervailing forces at work: Both parties get some blame. The effect on the presidential election outcome, it seems to me, depends on the severity of the economic consequences attributed to default. No one on Earth knows how that will unravel More certain: 90 percent of incumbent members of Congress get reelected.

  3. Steve Smith July 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Nate took a few more words to say what I said this morning…