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Latest economic report reinforces close race

July 27, 2012|By David Lauter
  • Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and President Obama.
Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney and President Obama. (AFP/Getty Images )

The 1.5% growth rate for the economy in the second quarter, announced Friday morning, is a number with outsized importance for political forecasters, one that figures prominently in many models that try to predict election outcomes.

So what does the announced growth rate tell us?

Same old story -- tight race, too close to call.

For incumbents seeking reelection, growth of less than 1% in the second quarter is bad news, UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck told journalists earlier this week. But, she noted, data from past elections indicate that the economy doesn't have to be growing robustly for an incumbent to win. Anything much more than 1% gives the incumbent a significant edge.

A 1.5% growth rate keeps this race exactly where it has been -- somewhere in the gray zone. The growth rate isn't good -- it won't bring unemployment down anytime soon. But neither is it the sort of terrible news likely to change the views of the roughly 90% of voters who have firmly made up their minds nor attract the attention of the remaining undecideds -- people who generally follow news only sporadically.

In short, the latest economic news doesn't change the race, it just reinforces a now-familiar picture of a close contest, with voter disapproval of President Obama's economic job performance closely balanced with doubts about Mitt Romney.

So for all those hoping that the economic numbers would decide the election in advance -- sorry, looks like this one will be decided the old-fashioned way.

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