If you wonder whether the bums will land on their keisters come Election Day 2010, check out the University of Georgia’s Economic Outlook for next year. If you want to know whether it matters, read on.
The economy, and particularly the job market, is the main X-factor in incumbents’ vulnerability for the 2010 elections. Well, UGA economists reported Tuesday that the only good news is that the bad news is over. The economic recovery following our 18-month-long recession, while sustained, will have all the vigor of a dead-cat bounce.
The economists forecast growth of 1.7 percent in Georgia and an equally mediocre 1.9 percent nationwide. That’s better than a contraction, but it’s less than half the usual rate of expansion after a deep recession.
In fact, growth of 1.9 percent would mean the U.S. economy was actually slowing a bit from the 2.8 percent annualized rate of this summer. Bummer. [Update: Since this initial post, the third-quarter growth rate was revised downward a second time, to 2.2 percent. See here.]
And this recovery, such as it is, will remain fairly jobless. The UGA economists expect the unemployment rate, pegged at 10 percent this year in Georgia, to top 11 percent next summer and average 10.9 percent for the year. Nationally, joblessness will average double-digits in 2010.
If all this comes true, incumbent office holders won’t be able to keep a lid on voters’ anger. Already, the signs were pointing to a ballot-box rebellion.
Nationally, the tendency of the majority party to lose seats in Congress in mid-term elections stands to be worse than average. President Obama, who took office with approval from 64 percent of the public, saw his number fall to 49 percent in the latest Gallup/USA Today poll, with 46 percent disapproval. That’s the worst showing of any president 11 months into his term, dating to Eisenhower.
Several veteran Democratic members of Congress have announced recently that they plan to retire rather than seek re-election. Democrats already have 11 open House seats to defend next fall, vs. just 18 in the last two cycles combined, and party officials have said they expect more departures.
Democrats won’t be alone in facing competition. Twelve Republican House members are vacating their seats. Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition head, predicts there will be more competition in GOP congressional primaries next year than we’ve seen in more than a decade. There will be big primary battles for Senate seats in California, Florida and Pennsylvania, among other races.
In Georgia, the GOP’s legislative majority looked rock-solid until the party was rocked by Speaker Glenn Richardson’s sudden resignation this month and the caucus’s halting response.
At the very least, the gaggle of Republican gubernatorial candidates face a much tougher road due to the Richardson situation and the still-struggling economy.
But what is all this momentum hurtling us toward?
The past 20 years have seen voters put a different party in the White House in 1992, punish Democratic overreach in 1994, re-elect Bill Clinton in 1996; put a different party in the White House in 2000, re-elect George Bush in 2004, punish GOP fecklessness in 2006; put a different party in the White House in 2008. …
At some point, voters will conclude that their pendulumism doesn’t discipline either party. Their short-term response, in D.C. and perhaps under Atlanta’s Gold Dome, may be a lunge toward divided government.
In the long term, this won’t be any more satisfactory than it was for the past 60 years. It’s possible that one of the major parties will be overtaken by a third party. But the fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans seem up to the task isn’t the problem; the problem is the number of tasks each party, once in power, tries to perform.
Limiting government’s responsibilities is where the answer begins. The first party to recognize that reality — and act on it — may be in charge for a long time.
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