'Misery Index' Bodes Obama Win

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

'Misery Index' Bodes Obama Win


Byline: David M. Dickson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama should win the election Tuesday, based on recent trends in the so-called misery index and other econometric models designed to predict election outcomes.

The misery index is a simple economic concept that adds the unemployment rate and the inflation rate over the preceding 12 months.

The index was popularized in 1976 by Jimmy Carter, who exploited rising inflation and unemployment during the 1973-75 recession to defeat President Ford. Four years later, amid a soaring misery index, Ronald Reagan won a landslide victory over President Carter.

Based on an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent in September and a 12-month inflation rate of 4.9 percent, the latest misery index totals 11 percent.

The misery index is one reason both candidates want to distance themselves from President Bush, said Jared Bernstein, a senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. Obama has been quite successful equating 'Bushonomics' with [John] McCain, and McCain has amplified the hurt by embracing so much of the Bush economic agenda.

The misery index in September of a presidential-election year hasn't been as high as 11 percent since 1984, when it stood at 11.6 percent.

Unlike September 1984, however, when it had plunged from more than 20 percent four years earlier, today's misery index reflects a big increase from 7.9 percent in September 2004. And it has been soaring since last summer. Indeed, the misery index jumped from 6.7 percent in August 2007 to 11.5 percent in August 2008 as inflation accelerated from 2 percent to 5.4 percent and unemployment increased from 4.7 percent to 6.1 percent.

When the misery index is high, people tend to vote against the incumbent party, said Ray C. Fair, an economics professor at Yale University who has built an econometric model to predict the outcome of presidential elections based on economic growth and inflation. …

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