#1. Will a recession doom the Democrats?

A good or even great economy doesn’t guarantee success for the incumbent president’s party—see Al Gore in 2000—but a bad one just might guarantee failure, like John McCain in 2008. That’s not to suggest that the nominees don’t matter—both parties could end up making strong or poor choices—but if there a recession over the next year the Democrats’ chances of retaining the White House could dwindle.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has identified 22 recessions of varying magnitude since 1901—on average, that’s about one recession every five years, and the last one ended in June 2009, according to the bureau. That doesn’t mean we’re necessarily “due” for a recession; it just means that historically, recessions happen fairly regularly.

We have no idea whether a recession will strike between now and Election Day next year. It’s just a critically important factor that menaces in the background. Looking a bit further ahead, if a recession doesn’t come before 2016, it could come in 2017 or 2018, which would invariably do damage to House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates flying the president’s party banner those years.