Electricity Sales a Predictor of Presidential Elections?


March 1996 article said weak electricity sales growth predicted Carter’s and H.W. Bush’s reelection loss, and speculated about Clinton’s chances.

Today in Fortnightly

"Elections and Electrons: Who Will Win in '96," was the article's title, in the March 15, 1996 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly, 20 years ago. The author analyzed annual electricity sales growth and observed weak growth in the years that President Jimmy Carter lost his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, in 1980, and that George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton, in 1992.

The predictor was four percent sales growth. If electricity sales would grow by four percent or greater from 1995 to 1996, then President Clinton would win reelection. If not, his opponent would.

We now know that electricity sales grew by just under three percent from 1995 to 1996. Nevertheless, President Clinton was reelected, beating Bob Dole and Ross Perot. The Clinton-Gore ticket won 120 more electoral votes than the Dole-Kemp ticket. Perot-Choate won no electoral votes.

There have been two reelection campaigns since the article's publication. In 2004, President George W. Bush ran for reelection against John Kerry. In 2012, President Barack Obama ran for reelection against Mitt Romney. 

Both reelection bids were successful. Yet, electricity sales growth was only one and a half percent from 2003 to 2004, and was actually a negative one and a half percent from 2011 to 2012. The reelections were successful but electricity sales growth was substantially less than four percent.

It seems clear that if electricity sales growth was ever a predictor of presidential reelections, it no longer is. Economic growth may be a predictor. However, electricity sales growth and economic growth are no longer highly correlated. 

Do trends in electricity tell us anything about the presidential election of this year? It would be huge if we could find a reliable predictor.

An institution of the utilities industry since 1929, Public Utilities Fortnightly has a unique responsibility to remind us of our past particularly when the past informs us about our future, but also when it's merely amusing.

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly
E-mail me: mitnick@fortnightly.com