By Paul Krugman
Jan. 21, 2019, 724 c
“Although there have been approximately 100,000 media profiles of enthusiastic blue-collar Trump supporters in diners, the reality is that Donald Trump is extraordinarily unpopular. A recent Pew analysis found only one other modern president with such a low approval rating two years into his administration.
On the other hand, that president was Ronald Reagan, who went on to win re-election in a landslide. So some Trump boosters are suggesting their champion can repeat that performance. Can he?
No, he can’t. And it’s worth understanding why, both to assess current political prospects and to debunk the Reagan mythology still infesting U.S. conservatism.
Let’s talk first about the Reagan story.
Reagan was indeed unpopular in January 1983, mainly because of the economic situation. Despite a huge tax cut in 1981 and a sharp rise in military spending, more than 10 percent of the labor force was unemployed.
Although many voters blamed Reagan for this economic distress, the truth was that it had little to do with his policies; it was, instead, the consequence of the Federal Reserve’s attempts to bring down inflation, which had driven interest rates as high as 19 percent.
By mid-1982, however, the Fed had reversed course, sharply reducing rates. And these rate cuts eventually produced a huge housing boom, which in turn drove a rapid economic recovery.
Like the earlier slump, this boom had little to do with Reagan’s policies, but voters gave him credit anyway. Unemployment was still fairly high — more than 7 percent — in November 1984, but what matters for elections is whether things are getting better or worse, not how good they are in absolute terms. And in 1983-84, unemployment fell fast, so Reagan won big.”