I can’t think of a good title for this one

by Andrew Gelman on December 7, 2012 · 13 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Political Economy

David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

The Republicans may still blow it. If President Obama is flexible and they don’t meet him partway, Republicans would contribute to a recession that would discredit them for a decade.

Is that right? My guess would that if the economy disintegrates in the next four years, this would hurt Obama and the Democrats. The real risk to the Republicans if they do not meet Obama partway is that, by refusing to negotiate, they could lose some ability to influence policy.

In any case, the party out of power typically has a medium-term motivation to wreck the economy, but I assume they are public-spirited enough for this motivation to not be too strong. I just don’t see the evidence for Brooks’s claim that an Obama recession would discredit congressional Republicans.

{ 13 comments }

Gunner December 7, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Really?

” I assume they are public-spirited enough for this motivation to not be too strong.”

I, on the other hand, assume the GOP IS mean-spirited enough for this motivation to be too strong to resist, plus they don’t care what happens to the economy, so long as it hurts the President.

Also, if there is a recession, bank on the President using the bully pulpit to blame the Republicans on a daily basis, until that connection is the thing most Americans connect with the GOP, just like he hammered Governor Romney’s connection to Bain Capitol every day until that was the thing most Americans connected most clearly with Mr. Romney…

Brandon December 8, 2012 at 4:20 am

I think you’re right to claim that Democrats would suffer in elections if a deal was not reached and the economy tanked. But I think this is mostly because the average voter doesn’t pay much attention to politics and will punish the incumbent party if the economy is bad, regardless of which party is actually to blame.

If you’re asking the question of which party should actually be blamed if a deal isn’t reached, I think it’s been clear for quite some time that Republicans are the more radical and irresponsible party in American politics, and if a deal isn’t reached it will will likely be due to their intransigence.

W.M. December 8, 2012 at 7:08 am

I think this actually ignores current polling. A majority of Americans would actually blame the GOP should a deal not be reached:

http://www.people-press.org/2012/12/04/pessimism-about-fiscal-cliff-deal-republicans-still-get-more-blame/

Andrew Gelman December 8, 2012 at 9:54 am

W.M.:

I believe that a majority of the public would blame the R’s if there is no deal. But I also think that if “no deal” leads to a serious recession, the Democrats will pay the price at the ballot box in 2016.

killias2 December 8, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I think you’re right when it comes to 2016, but 2014 may be a different story. If Obama plays it right, the Republicans play it wrong, and they enter the mid-terms taking the blame for economic troubles, Obama might do better than expected in the mid-term.

W.M. December 9, 2012 at 1:05 am

This is exactly what I’m thinking. Yes, economic atmosphere determines alot of how the vote plays out, but there is room for agency here in that campaigns also have some effect at the margins. A national push by Democrats to really tie Republican obstruction to any economic fallout would do much to blunt the advantage that the Republican will have with the natural demographics of a midterm.

buddyglass December 9, 2012 at 11:04 am

Democratic partisans will of course blame congressional Republicans. Partisan Republicans will blame Obama. The 10% of the country that isn’t strongly partisan one way or the other will most likely blame both groups. Though, since presidents are (wrongly) treated as if they’re solely responsible for the behavior on the economy on their watch, the Democrats will probably be punished next election cycle by this non-partisan 10% if the economy goes to hell over Obama’s second term.

In the “economy goes to hell” scenario, though, the Democrats might pick up some seats in the House.

Tracy Lightcap December 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I think the kicker here is what comes after if the deal doesn’t materialize.

I believe it’s a lead pipe cinch that the administration has a repeal of DOMA (unless the Nine deep-six it) and a clone of Bush’s immigration bill up its sleeve and ready to go. If the Pubs don’t go for a deal on the tax rates and sequesters – or even if they do – those bills will be sent up and their fate tied to their obstruction. Iow, it isn’t that the Pubs would be blamed for the recession that might follow a failure forcing an austerity budget, but also for failure to recognize citizen rights among minorities.

Now, Andrew may be right; economic problems tend to make everything worse for incumbents and lead people to cast their actions, whatever they are, in an unfavorable light. However, I think a trifecta like this, properly timed, could provide just the emotional counterweight to tip the electorate against the Pubs in 2014. If the Dems can get participation in that election up to 50% or so, there are going to be a lot of purple districts that could get pretty dicey pretty fast. The swing is 12 seats. That’s quite plausible with a slightly expanded electorate.

And, of course, if all that happens from the fiscal curb is further slow growth and a slight uptick in unemployment – and that’s likely – then the whole episode is a pure loser for the Pubs. I expect they know that.

JS December 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm

“the party out of power typically has a medium-term motivation to wreck the economy, but I assume they are public-spirited enough for this motivation to not be too strong.”

I don’t think there’s any evidence to assume public-spiritedness on the part of the GOP.

counsellorben December 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm

If there is no deal, and there is a deep recession continuing through 2016, then the electoral impact in 2016 will depend upon the public’s perception of responsibility.

In such a case, if the President uses his bully pulpit to hammer the theme of Republican obstructionism and its effect on the economy over this period, it may well be sufficient to cement a long term perception among a majority that the economic downturn was primarily or exclusively the fault of Republicans.

Republican counter-arguments that the country must embrace severe austerity are likely to be ineffective, especially as people come to realize over the next few years that austerity has been an unmitigated disaster for the Europeans.

Dispatches December 11, 2012 at 5:16 am

Yes, it will be important to tie Republicans to their obstructionism, and I think if Obama continues to work hard on it, that can be done.

But I also think the outcomes of 2014 and 2016 depend heavily on fixing the lack of positive messaging from Democrats and progressives.

The right relies heavily on a baseline dialogue of personal freedom. I’m frustrated by the failure of Democrats to counter that with irrefutable pocket-sized messages of social responsibility.

Counsellorben – an example of what I’ve just mentioned, is the apparent ease with which right-wing media ideologues have attached the blame for Europe’s problems to “European socialism”. So far, I don’t think the austerity meme is getting through.

counsellorben December 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

I agree that at this time, US perceptions on the European fiscal mess have been colored primarily by Greece, since that was the only story to receive significant coverage in the US media.

Very little attention has been paid in the US media to the ongoing problems, now that the Greek exit from the Eurozone is no longer being openly discussed. In addition, the little coverage there is tends to support the austerity solution without question.

However, if the US experiences the forced austerity of the “fiscal cliff” for an extended period, that will increase media coverage and public attention. At such time, if the US media presents the effects of austerity upon the European economies in a fair manner (showing how Europe is on a path to repeat the experience of the Japanese lost decade), it seems likely that austerity will become very unpopular in the US.

As always, economic disputes are heavily colored by ideological issues. However, there is significant objective historical evidence to show the failure of austerity as a solution.

Jon B December 11, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Proposed title: “In defense of hostage taking”

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