Pundits Can’t Lay Off Claim That Unemployment Will Doom Obama

The unemployment rate is not correlated with the results of presidential elections. Since FDR, in years where a sitting president was on the ballot and the yearly unemployment rate was 7.5% or higher, the incumbents–all Republicans–lost by 6 points (George HW Bush, who lost to Bill Clinton despite the latter’s only garnering 43% due to Ross Perot’s dilution of the two-party vote), by 2 points (Gerald Ford, who almost beat Jimmy Carter despite ascending to the presidency without ever having been on the ballot and then pardoning Richard Nixon), and won by 18% (Ronald Reagan).

Despite this particular metric being a good indicator of economic and social distress but not of electoral results, the Washington Post is sticking with it:

To win a second term, Obama probably will have to overcome the highest rate of unemployment in an election year of any president in the post-World War II era.

Provided a cabal of hedge fund guys don’t try to buy the election by peeling off likely Democratic voters and lowering the percentage necessary to win, Barack Obama would be satisfied holding his Republican opponent to Clinton’s 1992 percentage, and he’d certainly be happy to prevail by Reagan’s 1984 margin. While it will probably still be unconscionably high, there’s nothing in the historical record that suggests our expected unemployment rate in 2012 will prevent Obama from achieving those successes.

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3 Responses to Pundits Can’t Lay Off Claim That Unemployment Will Doom Obama

  1. I somewhat agree. The actual level of unemployment does not matter, but the rate at which it falls matters more. If unemployment is 9% by next autumn, I cannot say Obama can win. But if it’s 8% or even 8.5%, he would have a much better chance.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    I think unemployment going down would obviously help lessen hardship, but even if it doesn’t, what probably matters more, as Seth Masket pointed out at the first link in this post, is growth in disposable income. But even if that stays flat, I still think Obama’s chances of reelection are very good, because of the weakness of the Republican field as well as the long-term demographic trends that strongly favor Democrats.

  3. Jennifer Rubin over at WaPo is having a huge case of heartburn this morning:

    ” Obama has forfeited his standing as a post-partisan unifier. His rhetoric is harsh; his demeanor is peevish. He’s unlikely to thrill young people. His cynical attack on a do-nothing Congress seems lame, ”


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