Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What McCain was up against: The Economy

I just cracked open the initial release of the 2008 ANES data and thought I'd begin by focusing on economic evaluations. What the data show is something I think we all had a sense of at the time, but the pattern of economic evaluations is pretty dramatic nonetheless. Here's a look at the distribution of retrospective economic evaluations (national economy over the past twelve months) from the pre-election survey:
As you can see, economic retrospections were decidedly negative, with fully 89% rating the economy as "somewhat" or "much" worse than a year ago. Moreover, virtually no one (3%) rated the economy as doing better, and only 9% said it was the same as a year before. The best way to fully appreciated the negativity of these economic attitudes is to compare the distribution of responses in 2008 to other years:

Here we see that 2008 stands out in two important ways: the overall level of negativity and the near uniform agreement about economic conditions. Economic evaluations were generally negative in a couple of the other years (1980, 1992), but even in those cases there was more variation around the mean outcome. McCain was up against a very negative economic environment and there was widespread agreement about that environment.

In fact, given the lack of variation in economic attitudes, it occurred to me that even Republicans must have expressed a high level of negativity. Here are are the data broken down by party affiliation:

Sure, there is a tendency for Democrats to be more negative than Republicans, but "much worse" is the modal response in every partisan category, and fully 83% strong Republicans rated the economy as either "somewhat" (35%) or "much" (48%) worse.

There's a lot more to look at here and I'll try to follow up with other angles on the economy and the 2008 election.