By the Numbers: Democrats are Better for the Economy

Not long before Wall Street cratered, economist Alan Blinder published a piece in the New York Times’ business section that compared McCain’s and Obama’s economic plans. In the piece, Blinder argues that “the United States economy has grown faster, on average, under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.”

… his conclusion is based on data from 1948 to 2007, in case you were wondering. The data comes from a new book, “Unequal Democracy,” by Princeton professor Larry Bartels, which calculates a 1.14-point difference in gross national product per year between Democratic and Republican administrations.

“That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut,” Blinder says.

About two weeks later, picked up the exact same theme, only they used the annual Economic Report of the President, and concluded, “what these numbers show almost beyond doubt is that Democrats are better at virtually every economic task that is important to Republicans.”

What numbers are those? Percent change in GDP, inflation, unemployment, federal spending (yes, Demos are lower!), and surplus vs. deficit. The only place the Repubs are better? Taxes, by a paltry 17.97 to 18.4.

If you’re going to vote with your pocketbook, you might start by having a look at these two articles.


6 thoughts on “By the Numbers: Democrats are Better for the Economy

  1. The correlation is irrefutable; but the conclusion was (admittedly) wrong.

    Another interesting point: since Eisenhower, all recessions but one happened under a Republican (exception: Carter). Can we conclude that electing a Democrat will guarantee 4 years of growth?

    Presidents dont have the power and control over economy that many assume, or hope. A more interesting approach, instead, is to examine whether a bad economical electoral year leads to party replacement.

  2. No, correlation is not causality, BUT: the articles use long term data and this weakens the correlation-causality argument considerably. We’re talking about consistency here. Blinder looks at 26 years of democratic administrations and 32 years of republican ones, Kinsley looks at 48 years of data. As Blinder says, “statistical regularities, like facts, are stubborn things. You bet against them at your peril.”

    A correlation this consistent for this length of time would encourage researchers to start looking for causality, and you can bet the smarter among them would be looking in the direction the numbers indicate.

    To argue against the causality that is implied by the numbers in the articles, you would be proposing a kind of reverse causation that goes something like “Republican administrations actually pursue policies of high growth, low spending, low taxes, and reduced deficits, and somehow these policies have produced – consistently, over a period of 40+ years – the opposite of the intended effect.”

    Would this be the Stupid Policy Application argument? Can they be that dumb?
    A tough sell, especially bearing in mind the shenanigans of the past eight years.

  3. “To argue against the causality that is implied by the numbers in the articles, you would be proposing a kind of reverse causation[…]”

    Rejecting a claim doesn’t mean defending its opposite. Just because there is no causation out of *that* correlation doesn’t mean democrat governments are better for the economy. Or worse. It just doesn’t mean.

    Another possibility relies on a mixture of message and cycles. It’s not so much about which party is in charge (because the economy is just too big to be controlled by the federal government), but which party is outside. Economic contractions and expansions are cyclic phenomena; after a contraction there is always an expansion. During contractions, people want change and will elect the opposing party.

  4. Pingback: Economy: Democrats x Republicans « Sophismata

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