It’s the Economy, Stupid — Democrats Jumped the Gun and Blew Impeachment Efforts
Last December, House Democrats passed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump over l’affaire Ukraine among other alleged offenses. The purpose of the impeachment was not removal–staunch Senate Republicans precluded such an outcome–but rather to hurt the President’s reelection chances. “If we don’t impeach this President, he will get re-elected,” Rep. Al Green suggested. But throughout the impeachment saga, Trump’s approval rating climbed, reaching a term-high of 49% (Jones).
Of course, this phenomenon is not without precedent. Throughout the 1998 impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton, Clinton’s approval ratings rose “from 63% before the House impeachment vote to 73% after the vote” (Smyth and Taylor 585). Clinton’s newfound popularity resulted in a decisive victory for Democrats in the 1998 midterm election, in which Clinton became the first modern President to oversee a net gain of seats in the House Representatives in a midterm election.
Undoubtedly, many factors influence whether the public will support or balk at impeachment efforts. In this blog post, I’ll analyze the empirical data suggesting national inflation and unemployment rates are significant determinants of support for impeachment.
The post-war economic golden era raised the bar for the sort of growth leaders were expected to oversee. By the 1970s, however, the post-war boom seemed to be waning (Lawrence 115). Economic expansion became a third slower as compared to the 1950s (Lawrence 115). By 1974, inflation, which had remained in check for two decades, creeped into double digits (Nguyen).
This economic slowdown coincided with the public beginning to appreciate the scope of the Watergate scandal. Though Nixon’s declining popularity is commonly attributed solely to the Watergate scandal, statistical analyses tell a different story. One 2003 study estimated that only 10 points of Nixon’s 43 point approval-rating nosedive can be attributed to Watergate (Smyth and Taylor 586). That study’s authors hypothesize the remainder of the drop can be attributed to surging inflation and unemployment rates. Using statistical analyses of inflation and unemployment data, they conclude that inflation and unemployment accounted for approximately 70% of Nixon’s drop (Smyth and Taylor 586).
On the other hand, the Clinton administration presided over a vibrant economy and was spared from impeachment. Americans felt they were finally experiencing respite after years of economic disappointment. “During the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Americans believed that their children would experience a lower standard of living than they had enjoyed. By 1999, the public was much more optimistic about the future” (Sonner and Wilcox 556). Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that despite 86% of Americans agreeing that Clinton had perjured himself, Americans were disinterested in the details of his private life (“President Clinton: Scandals and Investigations, continued”).
Consistent with the relationship between the economy and support for impeachment seen during Nixon’s impeachment, it is confirmed that as unemployment and inflation decreased, Clinton’s approval ratings increased, reaching its 73% high in December 1998 after the House voted to impeach him (Smyth and Taylor 587).
As the Senate impeachment trial hit its one month anniversary, Trump’s approval rating hit an all-time high of 49%. The recent signing of the USMCA trade deal, record low unemployment, and 63% approval on his handling of the economy (Jones) should have been bad omens for those favoring impeachment. By this analysis, the impeachment of Donald Trump was doomed to fail given the strength of the economy he presided over. Had Democrats known in advance how devastating the coronavirus outbreak would be to the U.S. economy (early reports of an epidemic in Wuhan had surfaced prior to the filing of impeachment articles), they would have been wise to postpone impeachment efforts.
Jones, Jeffrey M. “Trump Job Approval at Personal Best 49%.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 4 February 2020, news.gallup.com/poll/284156/trump-job-approval-personal-best.aspx.
“Post-ABC News Poll: Beyond Impeachment.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Dec. 1998, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/vault/stories/data122198.htm.
Smyth, D. J., and S. W. Taylor. “Presidential Popularity: What Matters Most, Macroeconomics or Scandals?” Applied Economics Letters, vol. 10, no. 9, 2003, pp. 585–588.
Lawrence, Robert Z. “Is it really the economy, stupid?” In Nye, Joseph S., et al. Why People Don’t Trust Government. Harvard University Press, 1997.
Nguyen, Janet. “5 Things to Know about the Inflation Crisis during the ‘70s.” Marketplace, 5 Sept. 2018, www.marketplace.org/2018/09/05/5-things-70s-inflation/.
“President Clinton: Scandals and Investigations, continued.” Polling Report, https://www.pollingreport.com/scandal2.htm.
Sonner, Molly, and Clyde Wilcox. “Forgiving and Forgetting: Public Support for Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky Scandal.” PS, Political Science & Politics, vol. 32, no. 3, 1999, pp. 554–557.