More on Politics and the Economy

A short follow-up to my “It’s Still the Economy, Stupid” piece from earlier this week: John Sides, whose post on the relationship between the economy and public trust in government I linked to, has an item today discussing the findings of political scientist James Stimson. In short, public approval of almost every aspect of government trends together, and those approval trends also closely track perceptions of the economy, as measured by consumer sentiment. Sides quotes Stimson on the implications of this finding:

So what does it mean that citizens approve or trust? It appears to mean mainly that things are going well in the country. What is important about this pattern, and unexpected, is that the approval and trust are granted to those who have had no role in producing the outcomes. We have known for some time that presidents seemed to get more credit or blame than they deserved. With the pattern now extended to those who have had no conceivable role, we need to reassess what it means to approve.

Meanwhile, journalists covering the gathering Tea Party movement have noted the role the foundering economy has played in driving discontent. Here’s The New York Times’s David Barstow discussing his lengthy profile of the movement in a Q&A with CJR:

[A]t some point along the way I was struck by the number of people who had really been transformed since the recession hit. You could not miss the number of people who were drawn to this movement because of the events of the fall of ’08. That was one theme that became really clear to me—their incredible anger at the economic pain that they were witnessing in their own lives and the lives of their friends and family, and their anger and disappointment at the government’s role in both the events that led to the recession and the response, especially the bailouts.

Obviously, not everyone who’s angry about the economy has become active in the Tea Party movement. Political beliefs do matter, and not all voters viewed the bailouts through the lens of, to quote Barstow again, “impending tyranny.” But the economy seems to have been a catalyst.

None of this is especially surprising; anyone who’s ever pondered politics knows it’s more fun to be in office when times are good. Sometimes the basic facts of political life get taken for granted, though. These are more indications that journalists can’t go wrong by noting the role the economy plays in shaping politics.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.