BUSINESS
03/28/2008 02:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Economy Sucks. But Is It '92 Redux?

Clinton makes a gritty, unexpected comeback in New Hampshire. The contentious primaries pivot from a war in Iraq to economics. Business people fret about recession. What is this, 1992?

Not since James Carville helped Bill Clinton take the White House 16 years ago by reminding him "it's the economy, stupid," has the nation's economic state played such a key role in a presidential campaign. CNN's New Hampshire exit poll found that 97 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans expressed anxiety about the economy. Of course, the economy is in a worse place than it was when Hillary Clinton's husband was on the campaign trail. Today, the nation is perilously close to sliding into a recession; in '92, the economy had already started growing, though a jobless recovery doomed George H.W. Bush's re-election bid anyway. The lesson? Voters' perceptions matter more than whether the economy is technically expanding or contracting.

The news since the ball dropped this year in Times Square has been unrelentingly dour. We've learned that in December, the unemployment rate shot up from 4.7 percent to 5 percent, and the manufacturing sector unexpectedly shrank. Santa Claus left retailers lumps of coal for Christmas. Macy's, the 850-store chain that is an excellent proxy for middle-class spending, reported that same-store sales slumped 7.9 percent in December.

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