What U.S. presidents seeking re-election fear most is the wrath of a rising misery index. And nothing brings more misery to the world’s largest oil consuming economy than high oil prices.

During the 1960s, Arthur Okun, an American economist, created the idea of a misery index to measure economic hardship. It was simply the sum of the nation’s unemployment rate and its inflation rate, assuming the two to be equal in the costs they impose on society.

The concept was popularized by Jimmy Carter, who used it during his presidential campaign in 1976 against incumbent Gerald Ford, claiming no president who had imposed so much misery on the electorate could ask to be returned to office. At the time, the index was 13.5%.

When you live by the misery index, you die by the misery index.

Carter’s use of the concept may have helped him unseat Ford but by the time the next election rolled around, the index had risen to an all-time high of almost 22%.

While Ronald Reagan didn’t campaign against Carter on the index, he didn’t have to. With both inflation and the unemployment soaring, the American electorate was more than aware of their level of economic hardship, and they summarily voted Carter out of office.

For the past 30 years, the ebb and flow of U.S. presidential elections have followed the broad movements in the nation’s misery index. The index plunged during the Reagan years, which went a long way in explaining his enduring popularity and re-election to a second term.

It stopped falling during the term of Reagan’s successor, President George H.W Bush, and it was the context for Bush’s subsequent defeat to Bill Clinton in the “it’s the economy stupid” campaign of 1992. Just as a falling misery index re-elected Reagan in the 1980s, it re-elected Clinton in 1996.

That is an impressive track record, but not a surprising one. What it tells you is the economy’s performance is ultimately what the U.S. electorate cares the most about when they vote for a president.

And nothing has been more important to the performance of the U.S. economy than the price of oil. Carter was a victim of the stagflation of the OPEC oil shocks, while Reagan rode the wave of plunging oil prices when those shocks subsided.

Not surprisingly, soaring oil prices after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was the backdrop for the economic downturn that cost Bush his presidency to Clinton.

None of this can be reassuring for President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects. The misery index is at about the same level (13%) that cost Carter his election. And oil prices are once again centre stage when it comes to both explaining a near double digit jobless rate and rising inflation. Brent-based world oil prices have traded in triple digit range since the beginning of the year.

Will high oil prices once again claim a presidency as it has done so many times before?

  • Smokey

    Ben Santer is getting desperate…….3 more years of decline and he is toast along with all you warmists. Any bets on the outcome?

    Santer: 17 year-temp records needed to separate human from natural contributions
    by Steve Milloy

    Alarmists try to downplay an entire decade of no-global-warming – while
    other alarmists cite individual weather events as reliable indicators of
    manmade climate change.

    From a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory media release:

    In order to separate human-caused global warming from the
    “noise” of purely natural climate fluctuations, temperature records
    must be at least 17 years long, according to climate scientists.

    To address criticism of the reliability of thermometer records of
    surface warming, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists
    analyzed satellite measurements of the temperature of the lower
    troposphere (the region of the atmosphere from the surface to roughly
    five miles above) and saw a clear signal of human-induced warming of the

    Satellite measurements of atmospheric temperature are made with
    microwave radiometers, and are completely independent of surface
    thermometer measurements. The satellite data indicate that the lower
    troposphere has warmed by roughly 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit since the
    beginning of satellite temperature records in 1979. This increase is
    entirely consistent with the warming of Earth�s surface estimated from
    thermometer records.

    Recently, a number of global warming critics have focused attention on
    the behavior of Earth’s temperature since 1998. They have argued that
    there has been little or no warming over the last 10 to 12 years, and
    that computer models of the climate system are not capable of simulating
    such short “hiatus periods”: when models are run with human-caused
    changes in greenhouse gases.

    “Looking at a single, noisy 10-year period is cherry picking, and does
    not provide reliable information about the presence or absence of human
    effects on climate,” said Benjamin Santer, a climate scientist and lead
    author on an article in the Nov. 17 online edition of the Journal of
    Geophysical Research (Atmospheres).

    Many scientific studies have identified a human “fingerprint” in
    observations of surface and lower tropospheric temperature changes.
    These detection and attribution studies look at long, multi-decade
    observational temperature records. Shorter periods generally have small
    signal to noise ratios, making it difficult to identify an anthropogenic
    signal with high statistical confidence, Santer said.

    “In fingerprinting, we analyze longer, multi-decadal
    temperature records, and we beat down the large year-to-year temperature
    variability caused by purely natural phenomena (like El Ninos and La
    Ninas). This makes it easier to identify a slowly-emerging signal
    arising from gradual, human-caused changes in atmospheric levels of
    greenhouse gases,” Santer said.

    The LLNL-led research shows that climate models can and do simulate
    short, 10- to 12-year “hiatus periods” with minimal warming, even when
    the models are run with historical increases in greenhouse gases and
    sulfate aerosol particles. They find that tropospheric temperature
    records must be at least 17 years long to discriminate between internal
    climate noise and the signal of human-caused changes in the chemical
    composition of the atmosphere.

    “One individual short-term trend doesn’t tell you much
    about long-term climate change,” Santer said. “A single decade of
    observational temperature data is inadequate for identifying a slowly
    evolving human-caused warming signal. In both the satellite observations
    and in computer models, short, 10-year tropospheric temperature trends
    are strongly influenced by the large noise of year-to-year climate

    The research team is made up of Santer and Livermore colleagues Charles
    Doutriaux, Peter Caldwell, Peter Gleckler, Detelina Ivanova, and Karl
    Taylor, and includes collaborators from Remote Sensing Systems, the
    National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Colorado,
    the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis, the National
    Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.K. Meteorology Office
    Hadley Centre, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

  • Carbonman

    If you are concerned about the well being of humankind you have to opt for cheap energy and as cheap as humanly possible and as much as humanly possible and as fast as humanly possible.

  • Smokey
  • Anonymous

    Wow.  An “independent research scientist” with his own blog and everything…in a font color I could barely read against the background for 2 sentences before I got a headache.

  • Smokey

    Put on your sunglasses and get to the unfortunate root of the whole edifice upon which this house of cards has been built. That is why “climate scientists” are panicing and why it is so cold in Fairbanks so early. It is fun to watch the squirming if not unfortunate to witness the economic and personal damage inflicted by the warmist cabal.
    Heads will roll, watch out for your own!

  • Climate Skeptic

    Definately sell your bike. As I have said before these machines are
    playthings for children and not serious solutions to transportation or
    environmental problems. As stated previously they are abominations that clog up
    legitimate modes of transportation and are eysores. I mentioned previously that
    people over 30 do not use these for serious conveyance. Here in Shanghai where I
    am now posted I have to add that no one UNDERr thirty would be caught dead
    riding one.  They consider it a sign of failure and an embarassment to their
    family or as it is known here, a loss of face.

    Everyone drives a Buick here as do I. GM must be doing well.

  • Anonymous

    No thanks.  I live in a very bikeable, walkable city and haven’t owned a car in 15 years. I save lots of money on both gas, a gym membership, AND erectile dysfunction pills. Guess I can’t say the same for you. haha, a BUICK?  

    US stats: $80 billion a year in public health costs related to air particulate pollution from transportation.  Nearly 1 in 3 people born after the year 2000 will have type 2 diabetes, stemming from inactivity related obesity.  That’s $6000 a year in additional healthcare costs, per person.  Sorry, you guys are dinosaurs.  Cars are definitely dinosaurs.  Nobody can afford them anymore.Man you guys are bunch of pathetic trolls – for what other reason would you read a blog about peak oil and climate change?

  • Climate Skeptic

    The blog is about peak oil not climate change (or  global warming which ain’t happening lately) that all the know-it-all,  arrogant bicycle riders that populate this site have morphed it into. The particularly testy ones are the most ignorant about the basic science which does not support the whole political dogma that these people have been sucked into. But I suppose ignorance is bliss to use the trite saying.

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t?  I guess you haven’t read Rubin’s book…and who are you calling testy and arrogant?  Maybe you should look in the mirror.  Sorry, I guess the ED crack must’ve struck a nerve.  Denigrating sustainable transportation options – in fact, bragging about your…(ha)…BUICK – on a Peak Oil blog is like distributing McDonald’s coupons at a farmers market.

  • Abitibi Doug

    It looks like the world is getting that cheaper energy, at least in the near term. Because of more production, the price of gas has fallen in the last year. As for oil, its price has been dropping again recently due to an expected slow down in the world economy and some increased supply. Whether the drop in oil prices will be enough, and long enough lasting to save Barack Obama’s career as president (the original subject of this topic) remains to be seen.

  • Climate Skeptic

    Once you have digested this paper you qualify to post. With your arts degree
    ( I am being generous, grade school is more probable) this may be impossible, so
    you must join the ranks of the eternally deluded bicyclists and politicians.
    Your headache may be caused by confusion.

    Now for my perambulation.

  • Climate Skeptic

    Fact. A major contributor to ED and other prostate problems is none other than excessive bicycle riding. Too much chronic pressure on the rider’s brain, I guess.

  • Anonymous

     That’s only with Walmart bikes.  Why don’t you ask your wife if I have ED…

  • Anonymous

    That’s funny because I had sex with your wife.

  • Abitibi Doug

    You should get on a plane right now and go to the climate change meeting in Durban, South Africa right away and set the record straight. Hurry, don’t delay, times a wastin’! 

  • Rojelio

    don’t feed the troll