Dateline: 25 October 2006
I want you to imagine a country facing an upcoming election. Let’s see if we can guess who will win.
Economic growth for the first half of 2006 was over 4% at an annualized rate.
Taxes have been regularly cut since 2001.
The leading stock exchange index has hit all time records.
Personal incomes are up.
This summer, e-commerce sales were up 23% on the summer of 2005.
Unemployment stands at 1.9%
The Consumer Price Index is 2.1% up on last year.
The biggest economic problem of the past year has been rising gas prices but they started to fall two months before the election.
The opposition party has dumped its former number two, but he is successfully fighting back and seems likely to win as an independent.
Now let us imagine another country, which also has an upcoming election.
Fifty seven percent (average of several polls) disapprove of the government.
Seventy percent (average of several polls) disapprove of the legislature.
Generic poll questions put the opposition party 14% (average of several polls) ahead.
Sixty six percent believe the country is going in the wrong direction.
A foreign military adventure has taken a turn for the worse. An insurgency, which almost collapsed in the summer, is now revitalized.
Opposition voters seem more motivated and determined to vote; the governing party is dispirited.
Both elections are, of course, easy to call. The governing party is heading towards an easy victory in the first case and a massive defeat in the second. But how do we resolve this when both countries are America in 2006?
Who knows? Certainly, trivia like the Foley ‘scandal’ will drop from the radar as the election approaches, and people will focus more on real economic issues. Falling gas prices – which seem certain for several months – will be a factor.
People irritated with particular, scandal-prone, candidates may drift back to their usual party. This will help Republican Conrad Burns in Montana and Democrat Bob Menendez in New Jersey. (Though Burns starts off further behind, and the recent bump in his support may not prove sufficient). Naturally, if new information comes to light about either of them, they could see their vote collapse entirely.
One thing is for sure. Democrats do not want to talk about the economy or the war on terror. Republicans do not want to talk about Iraq or congressional scandals. A news agenda which pushes any of those issues – even complete trivia like the Foley issue, or fake stories like the Lancet/Johns Hopkins ‘research’ into deaths in Iraq – could tilt the election.
Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.