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The economy favors a Democratic win in November

Angry voters are riled up about stagnant incomes, lost jobs and do-nothing politicians. But there may not be quite enough anger in America to bounce the Democratic party from the White House.

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicts that the Democratic nominee, whoever it is, will win 50.9% of the popular vote in November, assuming the economy carries on as expected, with no big surprises. That would be a minuscule margin of victory. In 2000, Al Gore won 50.3% of the popular vote but lost in a contested election since George W. Bush won more electoral votes.

For all the angst that has been propelling the insurgent candidacies of Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, the U.S. economy is doing pretty well. The unemployment rate, at 4.9%, is at the lowest level in 8 years, and could drop as low as 4.7% by election day, IHS predicts. Employers are creating more than 200,000 jobs per month, and wage growth seems to be on the verge of picking up. Plus, gas is cheap, interest rates are low and many people purchasing a home or car can enjoy the cheapest financing in generations.

There are still some very real economic problems, such as a sharp loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs and many pockets of the country that aren’t participating in in the modest recovery. But improvements have been steady and despite wobbly financial markets, there’s no real sign of a looming downturn. “Labor market performance has been solid and will not be a headwind for the incumbent party,” IHS says.

A winning outcome for Democrats could extend to Congress. The House is safely in Republican hands, but the Senate isn’t, since 24 Republicans are up for reelection, compared with just 10 Dems. The Wells Fargo Investment Institute points out that Congressional turnover—while never very robust—is higher during periods of weak growth than strong growth. And average growth during the last five years has been the weakest since right after World War II. Congressional turnover since 2006 has already been higher than normal, and 2016 could extend the trend. If a Democratic president wins, a gain of four Democratic seats or more would flip the Senate.

It’s still way early to be calling the November elections, especially because neither party has nominated a candidate yet. Hillary Clinton seems likely to get the Democratic nod, while Donald Trump is the leading Republican, but there remain all kinds of things that could derail election math and make one party or the other a stronger favorite.

First, the economy could perform far worse or better during the rest of the year than economists expect. A stronger economy would favor the Democrats, and vice versa, but there are many other unknowns. New information about one of the nominees—flattering or damning—could derail their candidacy. A terrorist event or other exigency could change the calculus in voters’ minds. And the candidates' personalities—not factored into IHS’s forecasting model—could turn out to be a more decisive factor than in the past. The best prediction may be that something unpredictable will happen.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.

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