We’re not in Kansas anymore

In America, presidents are re-elected unless something very serious goes wrong. Hoover, Bush and Trump failed during recessions, and Carter failed during double-digit inflation. Otherwise they win, often by landslides.

The consensus forecast today calls for roughly the following facts to be true next fall:

1. Unemployment around 4.1%
2. Inflation around 2.4%
3. Rising real wages
4. A good stock market
5. A crime rate that has fallen sharply since 2021, after soaring during the previous administration
6. The country at peace, after ending an unpopular war
7. The incumbent running against a elderly, deranged, corrupt, crypto-fascist liar

Go back in time to the second half of the 20th century and present these seven facts to 100 political scientists. Ask them to predict the outcome of the election. The only dispute will be over whether the incumbent will win 49 states (as did Nixon and Reagan) or all 50.

And yet the betting markets say he’ll lose.

Yes, inflation was bad in 2021-22, before it began improving. But inflation was roughly as bad in 1969-70, before improving. And Nixon won 49 states.

We’re not in Kansas anymore. We are in Central America.

PS. Please don’t misinterpret this post. In my view, Biden has been a below average president. He’s moved US economic policy in an Argentinian direction (as did Trump.) Statism combined with reckless fiscal policy. Those facts have no bearing on this post. Nixon was an even worse president.

PPS. When I was young, apathetic voters were more likely to be Democrats. This has also reversed in recent years, which explains why the Dems do better in low turnout midterms. So how long before the two parties reverse their position on election access? This amusing Matt Yglesias tweet caught my eye:



20 Responses to “We’re not in Kansas anymore”

  1. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    19. December 2023 at 10:51

    I think there are important factors beyond those you mention. One of them, which even Trump and far-right media understands, is how telegenic a candidate is. The better-looking, better-sounding candidate, usually wins. Kennedy, Reagan, Bush Sr.(after Dukakis looked like a child in the tank), Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama,… I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

  2. Gravatar of MSS1914 MSS1914
    19. December 2023 at 11:27

    “Nixon was an even worse president”

    Scott, do you have any feel for how the Chinese view Nixon? Do they see him as a friendly foreign leader who made it possible for their country to re-join the international community? Or, as a Machiavellian type playing their country against the USSR? Or, do they not think of him at all (I recall a historian saying that with or without Nixon, China, after the extremes of the cultural revolution, was going to go the opposite direction and open up anyway)?

    Nixon was a bad president, but he was much more interesting than Biden or Trump. I don’t think either will ever get an opera made about them!

  3. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    19. December 2023 at 12:16

    1. Unemployment around 4.1%

    It’s not around 4.1%. We have 12,000 immigrants a day, pouring across the border; not to mention, millions who have stopped looking for work.

    2. Inflation around 2.4%

    If you believe inflation is going to be 2.4%, then you are an idiot. The Fed would have to tighten rates a lot more, which they are not going to do. Banks are already bust. The balance sheets are screaming.

    3. Rising real wages

    No. Rising nominal wages, not real wages. Real wages have not increased for decades. Bank balance sheets are bust. More people are using credit cards to pay for essentials. Once again, you are living in a fantasy world of fake data. Have you ever been to the heartland. Have you ever spoken to a blue collar worker? Have you gone to factories and asked if their purchasing power has increased? Apparently, not.

    4. A good stock market

    No. A good stock market is a correctly valued stock market, which means a market that is permitted to self correct. A stock market artificially inflated beyond intrinsical value, through years of easy money, is not a good stock market. The Fed is already talking about cutting rates again, which may boost the market a bit, but eventually the bubble will burst, and it will be 1929 all over again.

    5. A crime rate that has fallen sharply since 2021, after soaring during the previous administration

    FBI statistics show the opposite. Violent crime rates have increased, again, year over year. Inner cities are mostly cesspools of violence.

    6. The country at peace, after ending an unpopular war

    We are not at peace. We have internal strife at home, and an external war in Ukranian. West Point published a paper calling for Biden to reinstate the draft (low recruiting numbers), and the Biden administration has threatened to send American troops into war (Basically WWIII) because the Senate blocked another 100B request. Sending 100B to arm a country is not peace. It’s war.

    7. The incumbent running against a elderly, deranged, corrupt, crypto-fascist liar.

    I find that statement quite comical coming from a man who wants a “one world NATO”, who ignores evidence that Fauci offshored gain of function research Wuhan through Eco Alliance, and who called for the forced vaccinations of the American people after 20,000 medical professionals, including a Nobel Laureate, signed the Great Barrington Declaration.

    People who sit on bizarre supranational panels, calling themselves “elite” (i.e., YOU) are the greatest to the world today. The blue collar working class who wants to maintain safety in their community, revamp asylum laws to reduce immigration, and raise tariffs on imported goods to match the tariffs being imposed by other nations, are not the problem.

    And you can scream David Ricardo and comparative advantage at the top of your lungs, call them stupid, but it doesn’t change the fact that millions upon millions of hard working Americans don’t want your version of “free trade”, which isn’t free at all.

    They don’t want CRT in their classrooms, and little Sumner’s and petty tyrants attempting to control their movement, what foods they can buy, what stoves they can buy, what vehicles they can purchase, what words they can use, etc, etc.

    And they don’t want pathetic supranationals in Europe, like the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), Eco Health Alliance, World Economic Forum, World Health Organization, and the Gavi Alliance attempting to control the narrative through blackmail and coercion.

  4. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    19. December 2023 at 12:44

    Oh, wow. It appears someone is still suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.

    I love these anti-trumpers. LMFAO.

    Sumner feak outs good for a laugh, but CNN freak outs are even better. He’s the next Hitler, OMG. He’s a racist, OMG. He’s a populist. OMG. Stop him. Stop the people. Stop Musk because he’s an enabler of the people.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. December 2023 at 13:01

    Michael, Dukakis was much better looking than Bush. Trump was better looking than Biden. Bush Jr. was about equal to Gore. Try again.

    MSS1914, The Chinese have a very positive view of Nixon.

    Sara, You said:

    “If you believe inflation is going to be 2.4%, then you are an idiot.”

    Idiots are people that don’t know how to read. Where did I suggest that I thought inflation would be 2.4%?

  6. Gravatar of Joseph Calhoun Joseph Calhoun
    19. December 2023 at 13:33


    I don’t know how we’ll ever get the Saras of the world to see reality. She doesn’t have any data to back up any of her “facts” but she believes it to her core. And nothing you or any statistical agency of the government says will ever change her mind. The reality is that the economic policies of Trump and Biden are indistinguishable and they won’t fix what Sara laments no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Trump’s continued popularity and Sara’s faith in him after repeated failure baffles me. But we survived his first term and we’ll survive another if it comes to that just as we would another 4 years of Biden.

  7. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    19. December 2023 at 15:56


    First, being telegenic isn’t all about looks. I mentioned not only better-looking, but better-sounding. There are other dimensions here too, such charisma or some indications of “manliness”. These are stupid criteria, but they seem real.

    Mitt Romney is apparently a very handsome man, but he’s only visually telegenic. His personality is pretty flat. Obama was at least as handsome, but a much smoother communicator, and he had incumbency as an advantage, despite a bad economy. Obama was more telegenic.

    Dukakis had a big lead over Bush until this picture was released:


    That, the Willy Horton ad, and his answer to the question about what should happen to someone who raped his wife helped kill his chances.

    Second, I never said being telegenic was the only factor that mattered. I wasn’t dismissing the factors you mentioned, which are important. I think being telegenic is roughly as important as incumbency. Economics might be somewhat more important.

    Third, speaking with so much certainty about who the better-looking candidates were is getting pretty far away from a serious discussion. Gore or Bush? Again, there is more than looks going on. Bush was more telegenic. Very many described Gore as “wooden”.

    When it comes to Trump versus Biden, not everyone finds Trump to be telegenic, and his negatives are so high, that they swamp every advantage he has anyway with many. Many people see Trump as difficult to look at physically, as well as difficult to listen to, given his propensity to spew lies= and nonsense, and general nastiness. Some say he has charisma, but I don’t see it, and I many others fail to see it also.

    There’s also considerable evidence for my perspective, even regarding just looks. Numerous experiments demonstrate that people tend to unjustly atrribute positive traits to attractive people, such as intelligence and trust-worthiness.

    Also, everyone’s familiar with the famous polls of viewers versus radio listeners of the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which TV viewers were more likely to think Kennedy won, versus radio listeners, who were more likely to think Nixon won.

  8. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    19. December 2023 at 16:11

    More ad hominem attacks against Trump, with no substance.

    Sumner’s anti-trumpers are now trying to remove him from the ballot, because they cannot defeat him on election day.

    Sara, do you know if the Supreme Court will strike down Colorado’s ruling? This is an embarassment to the republic. We are officially living in a third world country now. These left wing nuts will probably jail him on trumped up charges, just like Putin arrested the populist Navalny.

    As all totalitarians like to say: if you can’t beat him, arrest him.

    These people just don’t get it. If you arrest Trump, we’ll vote for Vivek. We’ll vote for RFK jr. You are neocons and neolibs are not going to win. Just accept it.

    You had your chance for fifty years, and you jacked everything up.

  9. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    19. December 2023 at 17:07

    Well, the ruling in this case mentions the fourteenth amendment, which prohibits insurrectionists from acquiring office.

    But there is no precedent for this. We’ve never seen one party become so willing to use coercion and force to silence and censor opposing views. We’ve never seen a party attempt to remove the leader of the opposition from a ballot.

    It’s a shame the Supreme Court has to get involved, but considering the totality of the evidence, it’s more likely than not that the Supreme Court will strike down Colorado’s ruling. Nothing Trump said that day led to the trespass that occurred at the capitol building. He told his followers, on X and at the rally, multiple times, to ‘march peacefully’ and ‘make sure its peaceful.’

    And for the most part, they remained peaceful.

    There is now video showing security officers inviting protestors into the capitol building, giving them fist bumps, so it’s not even clear that they were trespassing. There was some property damage, but little to know violence. Only one person died that day, quite uncommon for a so-called insurrection. And that person, incidentally, was a former military veteran who was part of the protest.

    Insurrection requires ‘intent’. There must be intent to overthrow a government. It’s hard to equate a rowdy protest to overthrowing the government, especially when the so-called leader of that protest tells you to “march peacefully” and “make sure it’s peaceful”

    The reality is that judges should not be involved in determining elections. The people of this country deserve the right to cast a ballot in favor of their preferred candidate, regardless of that candidates policy proposals. The clause in the 14th amendment was designed to prohibit former civil war generals from obtaining office. There was concern that their loyalty to the southern militia would infringe upon reconstruction efforts. It wasn’t designed to keep someone you didn’t like off the ballot, or to equate rowdy protests and trespassing to an insurrection. If we call January 6th an insurrection, then we have to call the more violent BLM protests an insurrection. It will set a bad precedent, whereby any protest at the capitol building is called an insurrecction. Both parties will then use that to forbid their popular opponents from challenging them.

    Unlike Sumner, Courts have to be more reasonable. You have to carefully define and use words, because you don’t want to open a pandoras box.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    19. December 2023 at 23:17

    Trump clearly tried to overturn the 2020 election. He’s recorded as having done so in Georgia. He’ll probably be convicted, both federally and by the state of Georgia for this. Anyone with any sense knows this is the case. Trump should be disqualified from ever holding public office again.

    Unfortunately, the Republican Party has increasingly turned to the Goebbels political playbook, which includes accusing enemies of doing evil things that they themselves intend to do, repeating flurries of lies until many believe them, and flooding the zone with nonsense competing explanations for things(often conspiracy theories), all of which creates confusion for casual followers of politics.

    I think there are probably still enough rational Americans to stop Trump at this point, because Trump is too stupid to hide his intentions, and also too lazy and stupid to execute on his plans well otherwise. But, the Republicans have much more intelligent, informed, highly-motivated fascists that can pose a greater danger in the future.

  11. Gravatar of John S John S
    20. December 2023 at 06:59

    Dukakis was also quite short for a presidential candidate (5’9″ vs the 6’2″ Bush Sr). From Kennedy-Nixon, the shorter candidate has only won 5/16 times (31%; Obama and Romney are the same height).


  12. Gravatar of Brian Donohue Brian Donohue
    20. December 2023 at 08:50

    Things were looking good in 2020 until the COVID lab leak and George Floyd riots. 2024 gonna be lit. You’ll be wringing your hands about an impending dictatorship.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    20. December 2023 at 09:39

    Joseph, Don’t think of Sara as a person. These Russian trolls may be created by some guy in Russia, financed by Putin. One day they call me a leftist, the next day I’m a neocon. Then I’m a neolib. Then I’m a pedophile. Then I’m a cuckservative. It’s actually kind of funny when you stand back and consider the effort they put into this comment section, which no one reads. It’s possible that Sara, Ricardo and Edward are all the same person.

    Michael, Of course he’s guilty as hell. But presidents and former presidents are completely above the law. There’s no way Trump will ever be punished. We are not Denmark; we are a banana republic.

    John, The ratio 5/16 is not even close to being statistically significant.

    Brian, LOL, You’ve really become a conspiracy nut. If you kept up with the news you’d know that the lab leak theory has been discredited. And your crime comment is like saying “Biden was doing great on inflation until Trump appointee Powell juiced the economy”.

    The day after the election, I told you people Trump was going to win in 2024, and no one believed me. I’m beginning to see a lot of optimists throw in the towel and admit that we are a banana republic. Eventually, it will become the conventional wisdom (whether Trump wins or loses.) Just wait and see.

    Someday you’ll see the truth, as commenter Jason did back in 2021:


  14. Gravatar of Lizard Man Lizard Man
    20. December 2023 at 14:21

    Aren’t political betting markets bad at predicting elections? If a Trump win is such a sure bet, shouldn’t we be seeing some kind of market reaction pricing in future tax cuts and higher deficits? Shouldn’t we be seeing downward pressure on the stocks of health insurers that offer plans on the exchanges and plans to Medicaid enrollees?

  15. Gravatar of Scott Sumner Scott Sumner
    20. December 2023 at 14:57

    Lizard, “Aren’t political betting markets bad at predicting elections? If a Trump win is such a sure bet'”

    The premise of your question is wrong. The betting markets aren’t saying it’s a sure bet.

  16. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    20. December 2023 at 17:33


    Your prediction that Trump will win is obviously a compound prediction. You’re assumting that:

    1. Trump either won’t be convicted of a felony or that, even if he is, he will not be held sufficiently to account to prevent him from running for office and winning. There’s certainly some uncertainty here, but I wouldn’t assume Trump will get off free.

    2. Trump won’t be disqualified on the basis of having sparked an insurrection. I have no expertise for making a prediction here.

    3. Trump will win the election. While polls show Trump in a comfortable position to win a general election, polls and focus groups also show that most participants aren’t even aware that the likely choice in 2024 will be Biden and Trump. Participants aren’t paying close attention yet.

    The PredictIt prediction market shows Trump with a slight lead over Biden in his probability of winning, but Trump is still only getting a 40% probability of winning. Yes, that’s way up from last year and disturbing, but still not probable.

    Also, the abortion issue has often been underestimated in terms of salience to voters in recent elections. This, along with Trump’s horriblness, could bring out anti-Trump voters who Biden would have trouble motivating otherwise. And a referendum to protect abortion rights is making its way onto the Florida ballot for next year:


    Also, polls, for what they’re worth, indicate that most voters will not vote for a candidate convicted of a felony. Sure, Trump doesn’t need a majority of voters, but he could have unprecedented headwinds in the next election.

    4. You’re assuming the polls are accurate. They may be, but sampling is becoming an increasingly difficult issue, and we’re in increasingly uncharted waters politically, so I wouldn’t count on the polls being reliable in the next cycle. Also, these media-generated polls are often done on the cheap, which is one reason many campaigns conduct their own polling.

    You’re usually very careful with your predictions, so it’s interesting that you seem to have such confidence here, given the complexity and novelty of the situation.

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. December 2023 at 10:00

    Michael, You said:

    “You’re usually very careful with your predictions,”

    Sure, there’s a reasonable chance he doesn’t win. But 40% is far more than the 1% or 2% he was at after January 6. At a minimum, I was right that people wrote him off too soon.

  18. Gravatar of John S John S
    21. December 2023 at 10:15

    Scott, I wasn’t presenting it as dispositive proof. I was merely giving additional info (Dukakis and Bush Sr’s heights) and noting the trend since the start of televised presidential debates.

    But plenty of research has shown biases in favor of tall men (the research on women is mixed, but I suspect weight plays a similar role). From The Economist (Short Guys Finish Last, Dec 1995):

    “Height discrimination begins from the moment male human beings become vertical. Give 100 mothers photographs of two 19-month-old boys who resemble each other closely, except that one is made to look taller than the other. Then ask the mothers which boy is more competent and able. The mothers consistently pick the “taller” one.”

    “Mr Martel and Mr Biller asked several hundred university students to rate the qualities of men of varying heights, on 17 different criteria. Both men and women, whether short or tall, thought that short men–heights between 5’2″ and 5’5″–were less mature, less positive, less secure, less masculine; less successful, less capable, less confident, less outgoing; more inhibited, more timid, more passive; and so on.”

    “The western ideal for men appears to be about 6’2″ (and is slowly rising, as average heights increase).”

    “Perhaps heightism is just a western cultural prejudice? Sadly not. In Chinese surveys, young women always rate stature high among qualifications for a future mate. Indeed, the prejudice appears to be universal.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, Thomas Gregor, an anthropologist at America’s Vanderbilt University, lived among the Mehinaku, a tropical forest people of central Brazil who were amazed by such new-fangled gadgets as spectacles. Among the Mehinaku, attractive men should be tall: they are respectfully called wekepei. Woe unto the peritsi, as very short men are derisively called (it rhymes with itsi, the word for penis). Where a tall man is kaukapapai, worthy of respect, the short one is merely laughable.”

    “A survey in 1980 found that more than half the chief executives of America’s Fortune 500 companies stood six feet tall or more. As a class, these wekepei were a good 2.5 inches taller than average; only 3% were peritsi, 5’7″ or less. Other surveys suggest that about 90% of chief executives are of above-average height.”

    “Give job recruiters two invented resumes that have been carefully matched except for the candidates’ height, as one study did in 1969. Fully 72% of the time, the taller man is “hired”. And when they are hired, they tend also to earn rather more.”

    Given these and many other ways that people see tall men in a favorable light, isn’t it at least plausible that height plays some role in swaying elections for the most powerful position on the planet?


  19. Gravatar of Rafael Rafael
    21. December 2023 at 13:11


    I believe you are minimizing the impact of covid era stimulus in peoples perception of their economic well being.

    Long ago (paper published in 2000) Douglas Hibbs found that the best economic indicator for incumbent vote share was growth in real disposable income per capita. In 2022 and 2023 it has fallen dramatically as stimulus dramatically boosted it in 2021.

    People feel poorer because they have less income, and extrapolate their feelings to a poor economy. They dont like at the aggregate macro data and come to a reasoned conclusion of the state of the economy.

  20. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    21. December 2023 at 15:27

    John, I’m not saying tall men don’t have an advantage, I’m saying that 5/16 is not significant. In any case, I don’t see any of this having any bearing on this post. Trump lost by 7 million votes in 2020.

    Rafael, You said:

    “I believe you are minimizing the impact of covid era stimulus in peoples perception of their economic well being.”

    No, I am not. Indeed in a 2020 post I predicted that people would fell lousy once the stimulus wore off.

    In any case, people feel good about their economic situation right now. They say the overall economy is bad, but they also say that they themselves are doing fine.

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