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Why Conservatives Shouldn’t Be Shocked By an Obama Win

Michael offers a guide for conservatives shocked by a Romney loss. He makes a point that deserves a little more discussion:

Conservatives will say, with some good reason, that unemployment is unacceptably high.

Unemployment is unacceptably high, but it’s worth remembering that the difference between the official unemployment figure today and the one on Election Day in 1984 is not that great. Reagan was re-elected in a massive landslide when unemployment was still 7.4% 7.2%. Yes, the unemployment rate had been higher under Carter and had declined much more quickly and sharply during Reagan’s first term than it has in the last few years, but there has been gradual, albeit very slow, economic improvement since 2009. Even though they often have little to do with it, incumbents tend to be rewarded when economic conditions are improving on their watch. The weakness of both the pro-incumbent and anti-incumbent case on this subject was that both had to resort to counterfactuals that no one could test. According to the pro-Obama argument, it could have been much worse than it is had it not been for Obama policies, and according to the pro-Romney argument it could have been and ought to have been much better had it not been for Obama policies.

In the end, I suspect the counterfactual claims more or less cancelled each other out, and voters were left asking which candidate they trusted more. Romney has often narrowly won on polling questions on the economy, but it has never been by as large of a margin as he needed. At the same time, a majority remembered that the last Republican administration presided over a catastrophe, and all they heard from Romney was a lot of cheap talk about how things would be better if he were in office. Once all of that was set aside, the very slow recovery kept happening, and that worked to the benefit of the incumbent.

Insofar as movement conservatives and Republicans are shocked or bewildered by an Obama win, it will be because they perceive economic conditions that don’t actually exist and then expect the rest of the country to react to the conditions that they have imagined rather than the ones that are real. They assumed that Obama was an underdog when he was always the slight favorite. Now that he is on the verge of winning a narrow victory, there should not be any shock or surprise. Put another way, if conservatives are shocked by an Obama win they have spent far too much time convincing themselves and their friends of things that weren’t true.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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