Economists Give Presidential Candidates Failing Grades

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More than three-quarters of leading economists surveyed say the major candidates deserve either an F or a D for their discussions of economic issues.

Economic experts give mostly failing marks to the current contenders for the U.S. presidency — and their reasoning isn’t pretty.

As part of Bankrate’s latest quarterly Economic Indicator survey, the financial website asked leading economists what grade they would give to “the quality of the debate about economic issues during the current presidential campaign, and why.”

One dozen of the 20 responses were F’s. A few examples:

  • Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, succinctly explains his F: “There has been no debate about economic issues during the current presidential campaign.”
  • Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group, goes into more detail: “Trump’s policies are so vacuous, so lacking in detail and void of logic, they are virtually useless. Hillary Clinton’s proposals may be more substantive, but she has flip-flopped on issues as well, and is openly pandering to attract Bernie Sanders loyalists. Frankly, Trump and Clinton are the least desirable candidates for the presidency in recent history.”

The second-most-common grade was a D, dished out by five experts — who were hardly any less harsh in their explanations. For example:

  • Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West: “The candidates show little evidence of an understanding of economic theory or trade or immigration that would allow them to formulate policies that would help our country’s economic future.”
  • Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research: “There is almost no serious discussion of any economic issue. Trump and Sanders have tried to raise trade, and reporters have all screamed ‘protectionist’ rather than discuss the issue. There has been little serious discussion of Federal Reserve Board policy, labor policy, or the extent to which the financial sector poses a drag on the economy. This is in spite of the fact that at least one candidate has tried hard to raise these issues.”

Although the economists were not asked to grade Democrats and Republicans separately, one expert did anyway. He awarded an A to Democrats and a D to Republicans.

Seth Harris, a visiting scholar at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations and counsel at the Dentons law firm, explains:

“Clinton and Sanders have taken on the big economic issues in the U.S. — income inequality, stagnant wages, trade, tax reform, infrastructure spending, financial services reform, education — although the solutions occasionally have been too glib, as you might expect in a political campaign. The Republicans have addressed few of the biggest issues and, when they have, their (particularly the presumptive nominee’s) ‘solutions’ have often been worse than the purported problems.”

One economist gave the candidates a C, and another gave an explanation but no grade.

So how would you grade the presidential candidates on economic issues? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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