Pocketbook voting and the prospects for Trump’s reelection

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Here is some terrific news: The U.S. economy could hum along quite nicely between now and Nov. 3, 2020, at least from the perspective of anyone who owns stocks, has a 401K, is a PERA beneficiary, owns property or works for wages.

That is the possibility Moody’s Analytics, the economic research firm, took into account when it recently released a series of predictions for the 2020 elections.

Moody’s used three models to determine “whether the incumbent presidential candidate will win the popular vote in each state and the District of Columbia, and thus the necessary electoral college votes to win the election.”

“Under the pocketbook model,” CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes, “which places heavy emphasis on gas prices, housing prices and real personal income, Trump is predicted to win with 351 electoral votes. Using the stock market model ... Trump wins far more narrowly, with 289 electoral votes. The unemployment model, which mixes real personal income with state-by-state unemployment rates, projects a Trump victory with 332 electoral votes.

“Average the three ... and you get ... Trump with 332 electoral votes, and the Democratic nominee with 206 electoral votes. That result, if it came to pass, would be a marked improvement from Trump’s showing in 2016 when he won with 305 electoral votes.”

Democrats could be hoisted by their own petard.

In 1992, running the governor of Arkansas to try to deny President George H.W. Bush a second term, James Carville, a Bill Clinton strategist, told campaign workers to remember several key messages.

Carville wanted to keep it simple. Unseating Bush was daunting, as it is to unhorse any incumbent president. The last time it had happened, it had befallen a Democrat, 12 years before: Jimmy Carter.

Carville told them to keep in mind three things: Change versus more of the same. Don’t forget health care. And, “The economy, stupid.” It was the last one that stuck.

There is no reason why it could not work again; it ought to work better for an incumbent, if his campaign can make the argument that any Democrat will reverse a tax cut and not stop there, raising taxes on the middle class and eliminating millions of jobs in the health care and energy sectors.

But what about economic inequality? What about the lack of affordable access to health care? What about Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and global warming? What about taxing wealth and breaking up the big corporations that are riding this prosperity? What about getting rid of Trump?

It is possible none of that will matter to many voters next Nov. 3 if they perceive the alternatives to Trump will make them poorer.

We sometimes say that people who express their economic interests as they perceive them are “pocketbook voters,” as though they are a rare species, when it is the idealists and crusaders who are rarer; they are just louder.

Can any of the Democratic candidates pivot to a message of maintaining prosperity, without abandoning the plans they are now announcing and without accepting some inequality? It would take fancy stepping.

In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville observed of America, “I know of no country ... where the love of money has taken stronger hold on the affections of men and where the profounder contempt is expressed for the theory of the permanent equality of property.”

Writing of conditions in America a century later, John Steinbeck said, “Except for the field organizers of strikes, who were pretty tough monkeys and devoted, most of the socalled Communists I met were middle-class, middle-aged people playing a game of dreams. ... I guess the trouble was that we didn’t have any self-admitted proletarians. Everyone was a temporarily embarrassed capitalist.”

Eighty years on and facing 2020, one has to ask what if anything has changed.

— The Durango (Colo.) Herald