Posted by | June 14, 2011 16:11 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

As I watched the seven Republican candidates smile their way through the first real debate of the 2012 presidential election, I was struck by how often we make analogies to previous elections, and how irrelevant those analogies are. Below are some of the analogies I’ve seen (some of which I’ve made myself) and the problems with them.

1980: President Obama is like President Carter, a weak economy and foreign entanglements will doom his reelection.

Problem: President Obama is a much better politician than President Carter, and there is no Ronald Reagan on the horizon.

1984: President Obama is like President Reagan. He inherited a horrible economy, was vilified by the other party as an extremist, criticized by his own party as insufficiently extreme, and won reelection in a romp because things were improving.

Problem: The economy is improving but is still weaker than it was in 1983.

1988: This is why I thought of this post today. The party out of power had candidates described as the Seven Dwarfs and eventually nominated the former governor of Massachusetts, a very weak candidate.

Problem: President Obama is running as an incumbent and the economy was very strong in 1987.

1992: President Obama is like President Bush. He was very popular at the midpoint of his term and the economy caused him to come crashing to earth and lose reelection.

Problem: The Republicans do not have either a Bill Clinton-level politician or a Ross Perot to siphon votes away from the incumbent.

1996: President Obama is like President Clinton. He suffered a drubbing in the midterms but the Republicans overplayed their hand, giving him an easy reelection victory.

Problem: The economic recovery will be nothing like the one in the early-mid nineties.

2000: There will never be another election like this one!

2004: President Obama is like President Bush. An intensely controversial president buffeted by victories in the War on Terror.

Problem: President Obama is nothing like President Bush.

Analogies help us organize our thoughts. But we have to remember that each election is unique and while the past may be informative, it is not predictive when the sample size is small and the personalities of the candidates are so important.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.