The unemployment numbers this morning were not only good news for the country. They were unquestionably good news for the President’s reelection efforts. A couple years ago, 8% unemployment was often the benchmark people referenced as what the President needed to be secure in his reelection efforts. By the middle of last year, that seemed wildly unrealistic. But now, with the news that the unemployment rate has fallen to 8.3%, we can’t rule out the possibility that it will cross the 8% threshold by November.
But here’s what to watch.
This is a chart showing the President’s approval rating on the economy from his inauguration until today. He crossed into negative territory in October 2009. And he’s never looked back. It’s bobbled around a bit in negative territory. But his approval started tracking up in the middle of November and the movement has been pretty dramatic. This is the fifth straight month in which the unemployment rate has fallen. And political operatives often use a benchmark of three months between statistical changes in the economy and the effect of those changes showing up in public opinion. So it matches up. As you can see in this chart, there are news and political events driving President Obama’s rises and drops in approval. But clearly, the observable state of the economy is the key driver to these numbers.
So look again at the chart. In absolute terms, the President still has a big approval deficit — about a dozen points. But it seems to be dropping quickly. Watching this number over the next six months is going to be critical to understanding the outcome of the November election. In political terms, the trend is usually more important than absolute numbers. 8% unemployment is still really bad. But if it’s dropping rapidly that’s what matters. If the President gets into break even—or even positive—territory on the economy, Mitt Romney’s prospects of winning the November election get really tough.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.