I've seen evidence that the American people (and no doubt people in other countries) tend to be rather myopic when it comes to deciding who to elect, specifically they only tend to look at the last year's worth of changes, with a strong focus on economy.

The original study, as I recall, cited a situation where the economy had made strong gains early in a presidents election, but dropped back to lower, but still better then pre-election status, numbers. The study suggested the recent drop in economic fortune, even though it still was better then what the people had prior to the current president taking office, was a strong factor in individuals voting against the president.

I was curious if we had an example of the opposite phenomenon occurring. Specifically a situation where the economy suffered significant loses early in a president's time in office, only to make a partial recovery near the election date, leading to voters voting for the president due to the recent economic upturn, ignoring that the economy is still worse off then it had been prior to president taking office?

  • Obviously this is Skeptics, so real documentation is required, but my first instinct answer is: yes, 50% of the time. The half of the time where the economy is up, it's good for the incumbents. – Cort Ammon Aug 20 '19 at 14:41
  • @CortAmmon pss cort, this is politics not skeptics ;). Though yes I do love documentation whenever possible lol. – dsollen Aug 20 '19 at 15:24
  • 5
    It's not the USA (therefor not an answer), but this is almost standard practice in Dutch politics nowadays: in the first year after elections, raise taxes and so on. In the year before new elections, lower them somewhat (but less than they were raised). And usually, the ruling party is reelected as a result. It's known as "eerst het zuur, dan het zoet" (translation: First the acid, then the sweet) – Sjoerd Aug 20 '19 at 19:41
  • @Sjoerd actually that was exactly the thing I was wondering about, if a politician could exploit such a cognative bias by setting up a situation where he/she can ensure that it's possible to fix the economy/taxes by intentionally doing something to hurt it at the start of their presidency just to undo and 'fix' things right before election time comes around. – dsollen Aug 20 '19 at 19:50


The most famous example of this would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

FDR was elected President after the start of The Great Depression, which started in 1929 and ended in 1939. Despite the fact that this was the worst period for the US economy ever, FDR managed to win re-election 3 times in a row. He was able to do this largely because he was viewed as someone who was trying to do something about the Great Depression. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, was viewed as someone who did not do enough to prevent it.

It should be noted that these opinions are perceptions held by voters and are not entirely factually accurate; several historians have argued that Hoover actually did intervene in the economy significantly, and even though Roosevelt implemented many new policies, most of those policies were at best ineffective and at worst made the Depression last longer. But, those are analyses made with the benefit of hindsight by academics who were able to argue over data, not voters at the time.


Perhaps Obama, maybe... The economy took a turn for the worse during the 2008 campaign but Bush was a lame duck anyway. It did get worse during his first term, but was on the upward improvement by 2012 election sequence (if you look at the "Epic Rap Battle of History" done with Obama vs. Mitt Romeny for the election, Romney's line given "took you four years to get unemployment below 8%" was a last minute change as the day prior to the release of the video it was announced that the unemployment rate was below 8% for the first time in his administration). Obama did actually perform worse in the 2012 race than the 2008 race (in 2008, he won something like 10 states more than his opponent, in 2012, he won 2 states more) and many critics felt that the economic growth under him was largely in spite of Obama's policies, not because of them.

To anyone who follows the economy and politics, they are rarely tied to each other strongly, though the President will claim a good economy and push a bad one on his predecessor. Usually, the health of the economy is critical at election time only in the public eye as a good economy will usually get a candidate (or party in the case of a lame duck) elected and a bad economy will get the incumbent party thrown out. It's generally held that the Regan question applies ("are you better off now then you were four years ago?" Which Regan famously asked during his bid against the Carter presidency... and the answer was not one Carter would end up liking). So while Obama did have a down turn ongoing through much of his Presidency, the Economy did look like it was starting to turn good during the 2012 election... even if it was very slow when compared to economic trends prior to it and didn't really speed up until 2017 when Obama was out.

If we go by the president's party instead of the president, then it could be argued that the Democrats in 2016 were ousted despite the economy being in a recovery mode. This also counts for only two of the last three one term presidents, as Bush (H.W.) and Carter were both presidents during bad economic re-election periods, though Bush's problem was his fix broke a campaign promise (read my lips, no new taxes... technically, he didn't break that promise as he raised existing taxes but technically, the voters didn't care about the letter vs. spirit of the promise) so it's debatable if it was strictly over what Clintion famously said was "the economy, stupid".

Carter was very much ousted because of his poor handling of middle east issues leading to the OPEC Embargo and fuel shortages in the US, though he also had the Iran Hostage Crisis that was bogging down his support. Regan focused on the economy first as the crisis was ongoing for sometime and at least one network anchor on the nightly news was reliably giving the count in days as to how long that problem was going on for.

President Johnson is debatable as he served as president for the later half of the JFK presidency and was re-elected in 64, but declined to run for a "second term" in 68 due to his handling of Vietnam. To be certain, there was a lot of problems in the 68 election year alone that made the year rather tumultuous (same with 2016... it was a difficult year before we even discuss that it was also an election year). Democrats didn't secure the White House for a variety of reasons, but the economy isn't the first problem that comes to mind (Vietnam was much more to blame for Johnson specifically and the '68 Democrat party convention was... to put it mildly... more embarrassing theater of war than Vietnam... and that was little to do with the politics of 'Nam.)

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