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Our Fragile Economy Still Needs Time to Gather Its Strength

The best thing about long airline flights is the time they offer for delving into long reports, uninterrupted by phone calls and emails. This includes reports from economic departments of investment houses—economic consulting firms and groups that advise institutional investors—that give a texture to what is going on in the economy that can shape public opinion. One of my favorite lines about politics is from Yale political scientist and statistician Edward Tufte in his book Political Control of the Economy: "When you think economics, think elections; when you think elections, think economics."

Americans remain pretty pessimistic about the economy. The National Bureau of Economic Research calculates that the most recent recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. But that is certainly news to most Americans. In a March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 57 percent of respondents said they believe we are still in a recession, while 41 percent said we are not. Indeed, in the seven times that NBC/WSJ pollsters have asked the question since the latter half of 2001, a majority of Americans have felt that we were in a recession.

While consumer confidence is on the rise and pretty close ...

What Benghazi Says About Today's Political Climate

For political analysts—or at least those who try to be independent and nonpartisan—an occupational hazard is that at almost any given time, one side or the other will be angry about what you say and write. During the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, many conservatives and Republican partisans were unhappy to hear me say that a winnable race was slipping away from them, some believing all the way to Election Day that they would win. In 2010, and now in 2014, it is Democrats who are less than thrilled with our prognostications.

Another occupational hazard is cynicism. Elected officials and candidates, along with their handlers, say and do things that I am pretty sure they know better than to do. Or ought to know better than to do. They at least know that there is another important side to every story, especially when they decide to leave out pertinent facts as they heave rhetorical red meat to their party's base. They do what they feel they need to do to maximize their chances of winning, even if fairness or truth get a little bent in the process. A by-product of this tendency to bend the truth ...

Why Democrats Shouldn't Be Celebrating

There seemed to be a pop-the-champagne mood among Democrats after the Obama administration's announcement that 8 million Americans had signed up for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, desperate for good news, became euphoric at the suggestion that perhaps they had turned the corner on Obamacare, moving from it being a likely political liability to an asset, and that maybe the 2014 midterm elections might not be so bad. The fact that 8 million is less than 3 percent of the 313.9 million people in the United States seemed lost in the shuffle.

My impression at the time was that this sounded a bit too much like whistling past the graveyard. Now an array of new polling from a variety of sources suggests that Democrats have no reason to be encouraged at this point. Things still look pretty awful for the party. Especially meaningful to consider is that—no matter how bad the national poll numbers appear for Democrats—eight of their nine most vulnerable Senate seats this year are in states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012. Further, nine of the most competitive 11 Senate seats in both parties are in Romney states; the ...

Party Paranoia Could Destroy Hopes of Immigration Reform

Leading up to last year's Senate debate and the eventual passage of comprehensive immigration reform, GOP Senate leaders and party strategists were privately arguing that failure to do something real on immigration reform, while not necessary to capturing a majority in 2014, was extremely important for 2016.

They emphasized that there was a need to get the issue off the table during this Congress and to at least begin to reduce the perception that Republicans are anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant. They recognized that the Republican Party was increasingly being seen among many as a party for old, white men—a demographic that is decreasing, not increasing, as a share of the electorate.

In the states with pivotal 2016 Senate races—not to mention presidential battleground states—Republicans are fighting in much tougher terrain than they are this midterm election. Getting buried with the Latino vote is nothing less than a prescription for a disaster. In 2012, Mitt Romney garnered only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, and the national Republican vote for Congress managed only 3 points better among Hispanics. As recently as 2004, President George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote and oh, by the way ...

Playing the Name Game for 2016

The most popular parlor game in Washington and among political aficionados across America at the moment is pondering who will run for president in 2016, who will be the finalists for each nomination, and who will ultimately win on Nov. 8.

It's always a fun game to play, with an infinite number of factors to be weighed and no one knowing the actual outcome for a very long time. But as much fun as it is, this hobby tends to obscure something more important: the fundamentals. What will the inherent value of a Democratic nomination be in 2016? And what is the intrinsic value of the Republican nomination?

We know from modern history that voters tend to opt for change after one party holds the White House for two full terms. Putting aside the Roosevelt-Truman era—which for political purposes was back when dinosaurs roamed—voters have opted to keep a party in the presidency for 12 years only once. In 1988, after President Reagan's second term, his vice president, George H.W. Bush, moved from Massachusetts Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Reagan's approval rating had been running in the low fifties during the fall 1988 campaign. It ...