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To win, say “growth.” That’s the takeaway from a survey of past presidential debates. In election years when economic troubles are the main issue, the advisers of candidates tend to settle on one of two themes: “jobs” or “growth.” Then they instruct their candidate to hammer home the ideas that the terms evoke. A quick survey of past election debates suggests that some terms work better than others when it comes to wooing voters. “Grow” or “growth,” when uttered in reference to the economy, may help win elections; “job” or “jobs” doesn’t work as well. Consider the 1992 campaign, when Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Ross Perot of Texas challenged incumbent President George H.W. Bush. When the debates’ preparation began, in September 1992, the most recent reported jobless rate was 7.6 percent. “Creating jobs is the No. 1 issue,” President Bush said, and over Labor Day weekend Clinton told television viewers that a jobs program was “the No. 1 thing” he would do as president. In the 1992 debates themselves, the word “job” or “jobs” was used more than 100 times by candidates in relation to the economy. Clinton used the term the most. He was also big on “growth.” During the debates, Clinton used that word or “growing” 37 times, Ross Perot spoke of growth 10 times, and Bush only four. After the debates, President Bush increased his references to growth, saying on Oct. 27, while campaigning, “We have now had six straight quarters of growth in the United States.” It was Clinton’s debate record, however, that stuck in people’s minds. Read More
Matthew Denhart is an expert on immigration policy and is the author of the Bush Institute’s America's Advantage: A Handbook of Vital Immigration and Economic Growth Statistics, now in its third edition. He currently serves as executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation and is a founder of the Coolidge Scholars Program which provides full-ride merit scholarships to America's most promising college students. A summa cum laude graduate of Ohio University, Denhart has written and spoken widely on a variety of policy topics including the economics of higher education, labor, and taxes. He has contributed articles to numerous national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, CNN Opinion, and Bloomberg View.Full Bio