The economy and the presidency: forever together

Being the president of the United States is a big deal. People spend more time than they should thinking about it and trying to predict who is going to be the next one. It creates a national popularity contest that stretches on for months on end, even surpassing a year’s worth of solid, directed advertisement about the presidency.

People want the job. Let’s not mince words. The presidency brings with it a whirlwind of perks and privileges that no other job provides. The President of the United States is frequently viewed as the leader of the free world because of the immense power they wield.

People will also do just about anything to become president. They will break rules, skirt laws, embarrass themselves, and hold fundraisers just for the chance to be POTUS.

The most ironic part about winning the presidency is how little winning the presidency has to do with the presidency itself. There are many factors that play a large role in determining the likelihood a candidate becoming president, but one stands above all others: Economic performance.

If there is any reliable instrument of predicting the winner of a presidential election, it is quite easily the economy. Unfortunately, the economy is a funny thing in that it does not (often) bend to individuals’ (or even groups’) whims. You cannot drag it down to prevent the incumbent from being re-elected. You cannot build it up to keep the incumbent in place. That is, one cannot do it by themselves or with just their party. That kind of change requires the bulk of America to follow suit, which is why it is such a popular thermometer of the effectiveness of the chief executive.

As a general rule, presidents do not get re-elected when the economy is doing poorly leading up to election. Notice what I did not say: I did not say, ‘when the economy is mis-managed.’ This largely comes from the phenomenon that presidents take the credit or blame for the economy’s performance, regardless of their hand in it. While it is possible for presidents to play an integral role to America’s economic performance, in reality, they often play a less-than-deciding role in it. Far more often, congress plays the leading role in economic performance. To make matters worse for the commander-in-chief, even if they are taking steps to remedy an ailing economy that either have delayed effects or perhaps even negative short-term effects, the populace does not seem to reward them for their efforts terribly often. Economic recessions are most often not the fault of the incumbent president, but they bear the blame and responsibility for fixing it.

Don’t believe me? If a democrat had been an incumbent in the 1932 presidential election instead of Herbert C. Hoover, who do you think would have won the election?