Micky Kaus, the Thinking Conservative’s Liberal, has been suggesting that the traditional thinking that the economy must be good at least six months before an election for the President to have a chance is wrong. His contention is that the Feiler Faster Thesis, the idea that the Internet has made it possible for much rapider media cycles to change people’s minds about things more quickly, will save Obama’s bacon even if we only see notable economy recovery, say, three or four months out.
I think the Feiler Faster Thesis is correct in general, but is mistaken in this particular instance. (And let’s temporarily ignore that I don’t think any economic recovery is in the offing at all this year.)
The problem is that this recession has been too long and deep for the Feiler Faster Thesis to save Obama even if the economy does pick up a few months before the election. People’s feelings about the economy are deeply tied to their personal experience. The people they know who are unemployed, the prices they pay at the grocery store, the foreclosures and lingering FOR SALE signs on their own street, the business and plants closings in their own city all trump the news cycle. While the Feiler Faster Thesis may explain rapid opinion changes about Iraq or Lady Gaga, it can’t override people’s own insecurity. Nobody cares about brightening economic indicators when they can’t pay their own bills
Which is not to say some people won’t pick up on economic news more rapidly. I’m sure that stock traders and hedge fund managers are working on faster cycles than ever before. But voters, especially independent and undecided voters, are still far more attuned to their own economic anxiety than to media narratives about a “recovery summer” they can’t see with their own eyes. Consumer confidence is considered a lagging economic indicator, which makes it precisely the sort of thing immune to the Feiler Faster Thesis.
The only people who think the Feiler Faster Theory might save Obama’s bacon are liberals who want it to.