The Economy and the Presidency

CAMBRIDGE – America’s presidential election is now just six months away. If history is a reliable guide, the outcome will depend significantly on the economy’s performance between now and November 6, and on Americans’ perception of their economic future under the two candidates.

At the moment, America’s economy is limping along with slow growth and high unemployment. Output grew by just 1.5% last year, and real GDP per capita is lower now than before the economic downturn began at the end of 2007. Although annual GDP growth was 3% in the fourth quarter of 2011, more than half of that reflected inventory accumulation. Final sales to households, businesses, and foreign buyers rose at only a 1.1% annual rate, even slower than earlier in the year. And the preliminary estimate for annual GDP growth in the first quarter of 2012 was a disappointing 2.2%, with only a 1.6% rise in final sales.