Even with Time, McCain’s Chances Contingent on Economy

In a recent Los Angeles/Bloomberg poll, the majority of U.S citizens believe the country is already in a recession. Popular opinion on the economy has played a strong part of presidential campaigns. For Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, this may prove to be a critical issue for him in the upcoming presidential race.

Alison Fitzgerald, Bloomberg.com, March 24, 2008,

Seven months before Election Day, rising home foreclosures, shrinking financial assets and gasoline approaching a record $4 a gallon are daily reminders that the U.S. economy may be the worst in almost 30 years.

Even if a recovery begins this summer, Americans won’t feel the difference until much later. That’s why when the polls open Nov. 4, the Republicans, who have controlled the White House since 2001 and Congress for much of that time, will have ceded a key advantage to the Democrats.

Recessions shaped four presidential elections in the past half-century — in 1960, 1976, 1980 and 1992. Each time, the candidate from the party trying to retake the White House won. A model that uses economic data to predict presidential race outcomes has the Democrats getting 52 percent of the votes cast for the two major party candidates, says Ray Fair, the Yale University professor who developed it.

“The economic environment, based on all of the data I’ve ever seen, is the most powerful indicator of how the party in power will do,” says Jody Powell, a top aide to Jimmy Carter. He speaks from experience, having worked on Carter’s victorious 1976 presidential campaign and his 1980 loss to Ronald Reagan, which was flanked by two recessions.

“The economy will likely be the dominant issue” this year, Powell says.

As already widely speculated, McCain’s vice presidential candidate will address one of his weaknesses. If opinion polls continue to signal overall concern for the economy, McCain might end up choosing someone with a strong background in economics for his VP.