While that might sound like a controversial series of Olympic curling scores, these numbers in fact add up to a grave problem for Barack Obama.
They are the quarterly percentage gains in gross domestic product starting in 1983 through to Election Day 1984. And they aren't the only significant numbers. In 1984, real income for individuals grew by more than 6 percent and inflation plummeted. The unemployment rate in November 1984 was still 7.2 percent -- relatively high -- but it had dropped from 10.8 percent in December 1982, and it was clear the momentum was for even lower unemployment. "Staying the course" with Ronald Reagan made sense to most people, which is why he won re-election in a 49-state landslide.
Sadly for Obama -- but far worse for the country -- that kind of growth seems like a pipe dream. Last month, the Federal Reserve lowered its forecast for 2011 GDP growth from a range of 3.1 percent to 3.3 percent, made just two months earlier, to a much slower 2.7 percent to 2.9 percent. And it revised downward its projections for 2012 and 2013 as well.
For Democrats who insist that James Carville's mantra "It's the economy, stupid" is the key to unlocking any election, these numbers couldn't be more sobering. But for the Democrats and liberal pundits who've spent the last two years looking to Reagan for inspiration, the data should have the same sobering effect as being thwacked in the face with a semi-frozen flounder. You don't hear much about it now, but not long ago the White House was taking a lot of comfort in the Reagan example. According to a Time cover story, "Why Obama (Hearts) Reagan," the president was fixated with emulating the Gipper. He quizzed historians about him. He took a Reagan biography with him for his Christmas vacation. He even wrote a glowing op-ed about Reagan for USA Today.
As the November elections approached, White House strategists and liberal writers spun the Reagan precedent as a reason to remain optimistic about Obama's re-election chances. Reagan had lost 26 House seats (and zero in the Senate) in his first midterm elections yet went on to win re-election handily. Liberal writers such as The New Republic's John Judis insisted Obama could limit his losses by emulating Reagan's communications strategy.