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The Economics of the 2012 Presidential Election

11.05.12

As a professor of economics, Patrick Walsh knows the importance of making complex topics relatable.

His latest challenge? The 2012 presidential election.

Shortly after beginning at Saint Michael's College in 2006, Walsh decided to put together a discussion series that would meet a few times each semester and present on different economic issues.

"My goal was to move economics out of the classroom," he said. "We econ professors can reach a certain number of students in the classroom, but there are a lot of people in the wider community that are curious about these things, too."

In the years since its inception, Walsh said the series has proven quite popular. Part of that may be the timely, topical subjects Walsh investigates, which have included everything from WalMart to recessions.

"These are complicated things," Walsh said. "What you hear in the media is not always going to be the way economists think about these issues. Pretty much every series I've done, people come up and say thank you. Attendance has been really good, too, especially for the one on health care, which packed Hoehl. The ones on the presidential candidates have been popular, too."

In 2008, Walsh focused two of the discussions on that year's presidential race: one on the candidates' healthcare platforms, and another on their taxes and trade platforms. He has done similarly for this year's elections, including a presentation at the end of September on what factors shape a presidential election, and October 24th's "Current Issues in Economics: A Critical Analysis of Obama's and Romney's Economic Platforms."

That presentation is available online through Tegrity, and included an informative handout with several striking graphs and statistics about both Romney and Obama's campaigns. Walsh hopes all of it will be useful not only in helping people decide how to vote, but in understanding what drives the process.

"I'm a visual person, so I'm drawn to the graphs," he said. "But one of the keys [of that handout] is the pie chart that shows us where federal spending goes. It's interesting that the only thing Romney wants to cut is only 20 percent of the budget and not only 20 percent, but the 20 percent that's not growing. And on the Obama side, the Economist article that is included gives Obama a report card on his first term as president. It's a neat one-stop-shop for the way I think economists think about his presidency."

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