The 2016 election will, of course, turn on more than economics. But, because many Americans have yet to see the recovery reflected in their paychecks, the Republicans will seek to play up and exploit a general feeling of malaise. However, they also sought to employ this strategy in 2012, when the unemployment rate remained above 7.5 per cent. It didn't work then, and it's far from guaranteed to work next year. In order to persuade the American public that the G.O.P. has the wherewithal to raise living standards and move the country beyond the "lost decade," the party will need to come up with some specific and fully costed proposals, of which there are currently few signs.
The Democrats, for their part, will be making the same argument that the Conservative Party in Britain made during the recent U.K. elections: "Steady as she goes. Things are getting better. Don't let the other crowd return to power and wreck it." As the Tories' victory showed, this can be a powerful political message, especially if the opposition, and its candidate for leader, are widely perceived as incompetent or extremist.
It's too early to say how the electorate will view the candidate who emerges from the Republican primary. But we already have some reliable data on public perceptions of the national party and its Washington-based leadership. According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, the Republicans in Congress have an approval rating of seventeen per cent.