What Can Politicians Learn From 2012?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As analysts begin to debate how Congress' inability to reach an agreement to raise the nation's borrowing limit will effect mid-term elections, two political scientists remind us that voters may have short-term memories, especially when it comes to the economy.

A new book about the 2012 election, called "The Gamble," argues that Mitt Romney's decision to run on the platform of sluggish economic growth as reason to unseat President Obama may have been a fruitless approach.

The 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession left newly elected Obama with the critical task to steer the U.S. economy into growth and stamp down rampant unemployment, but John Sides, a political science professor at George Washington University, and Lynn Vavreck, a political science professor at UCLA, found that by April 2012 polling suggested Obama was in good position to win the election despite a historically slow recovery.

"I think you had people, in some sense, failing to appreciate that an incumbent president running in even a slowly growing economy is more likely to win than lose," Sides said by telephone from Washington.

By the end of the first quarter of the election year, gross domestic product was growing at a 3.7% clip and the unemployment rate had inched down to 8.2%. GDP would slow to almost flat growth by the fourth quarter and unemployment would edge down to just 7.8%, but the trend showed the country was rebounding.

"It's hard to beat the incumbent in a growing economy if you're talking about how bad the economy is; it doesn't square with people's reality," Vavreck said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

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