The Romney Disconnect: Running Against an Improving Economy
“We welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined,” Romney said in a news release. “Unfortunately, these numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery. We can do better.”
This statement says it all. Unemployment is decreasing by most measures, the Dow Jones Industrials are nearing a post-recession high and consumer confidence is on the rise. The Romney campaign is facing an increasingly steep uphill battle to try and convince the independent and undecided voters that this is, somehow, all bad news - or not happening at all. All along, it has been Romney’s strategy to placate the GOP right-wing primary voters by running hard to the social conservative extreme, disavowing previously held positions on healthcare, abortion, and marriage equality. While trying to position himself as sufficiently reactionary to gain the nomination, Romney has been attacking the Obama economic record to draw in independent swing voters and disaffected Democrats. The following graphs are predictive of the unavoidable failure of this tack:
All commonly accepted and reported measures of unemployment are improving - there is nowhere to hide in this respect. While the numbers of those discouraged from seeking work are higher than the headline unemployment rate, even these numbers have been decreasing.
Consumer confidence, shown above plotted against the S&P 500, has been experiencing a steady, if slow rise since 2009, despite recent slight decreases. This is big; if people feel good, then they won’t believe things aren’t good - in fact, they don’t want to be told to feel bad. Remember Carter and “national malaise”?
The preceding chart shows DJIA performance through 2011. Despite some ups and downs, the market is currently poised to pass the 13,000 barrier, its highest level since the recession.. As of this writing (11:10AM EST), the Dow is at 12,949.87. And the news only gets worse for Romney:
Election Year Trends
Through 2007, the DJIA has a clear tendency to trend upwards during Presidential election years. While the first five months tend to be “choppy” (JP Morgan), the following months through the election show improving trends in stock market performance.
So what’s left? A snapshot of Romney today shows a socially ultra-conservative candidate who has vocally, purposefully and probably permanently alienated anybody to the social left of the Tea Party, most importantly the only voters who really matter in elections - undecided swing voters who have no fixed party affiliation. This was meant to be offset by a strong appeal to voters’ wallets, echoing Reagan’s famous question: Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago? Unfortunately for Romney, the answer to that question is now “Yes”. And by walling himself off from any possible suggestion that he might be at all malleable on social issues, Romney is now condemned to insist that an improving economy isn’t sustainable under Obama’s policies. But that argument - even if correct - relies on economic theory, and nothing is more boring, or leads voters to switch the channel more quickly, than discussions about economic theory.
So what will happen? I suppose one increasingly likely outcome is that Romney loses the interest of the economically motivated GOP primary voter and the social wingnut gang pushes Santorum to the candidacy. In that case, the general election becomes a clown car comedy fest, with Obama blowing out the GOP. If Romney holds on, the general election becomes a David Copperfield act of Romney making economic progress disappear, and Obama blows out the GOP. The only wildcard is voter turnout. Look for the GOP to move into panic mode and heavily push restrictive voter registration legislation on a state level in the short term.