The Oversold Society
Democracy is a method of ﬁnding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.—Reinhold NiebuhrLeave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hands of the harlot, and ﬂee.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
oday we take it as a given that the state of the economy affectspresidential elections.Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election afterhe stared into the camera during a debate with Jimmy Carter and askedthe voters whether they were better off than four years ago. Bill Clintonwon the 1992 election by keeping his campaign focused on “the economy,stupid.” And most recently, Barack Obama’s November 2008 victory over George Bush was certainly aided by the long recession that began inDecember of 2007.Since 1960, the American National Election Studies have surveyedvoters about the most important problem facing the nation. From 1960to 2000, the most common answer was a concern about the economy orbusiness or consumer issues, easily outpacing foreign policy or nationaldefense issues (Johnston and Williamson 2005). Among academics, asmall industry has formed to assess the effect of economic conditions onvoting; by 2006, the number of scholarly articles and books stood at 400(Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2007). The articles have found that economicconditions have strong and statistically signiﬁcant impacts on how peo-ple vote. The best known of these pieces are by economist Ray Fair of Yale University; in a 1996 article, Fair was able to explain 96 percent of the variation in the votes for president from 1916 to 1992 by looking only at growth rates, inﬂation rates, whether an incumbent was running again,and whether the country was at war.