As we approach the midterm elections, most political coverage I see frames the contest as a struggle between Republicans taking advantage of a bad economy and Democrats trying to scare voters about the G.O.P.’s regressive social agenda. Voters do, indeed, perceive a bad economy. But perceptions don’t necessarily match reality.

In particular, while political reporting generally takes it for granted that the economy is in bad shape, the data tell a different story. Yes, we have troublingly high inflation. But other indicators paint a much more favorable picture. If inflation can be brought down without a severe recession — which seems like a real possibility — future historians will consider economic policy in the face of the pandemic a remarkable success story.

When assessing the state of the economy, what period should we use for comparison? I’ve noted before that Republicans like to compare the current economy with an imaginary version of

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