Will recent months of economic good news, including today’s Department of Labor unemployment report, redound to President Obama’s political benefit in 2012?
If the GOP’s messaging schizophrenia over the last several weeks is any indication, they seem to think it could. And there are real precedents for this effect. When President Reagan’s economy bottomed out and began to improve, it did so early and quickly enough in his term that he pronounced it “morning in America” and won a landslide re-election.
Here’s how President Obama’s recovery looks by comparison.
This isn’t intended to compare the recessions the two presidents faced — they were fundamentally different kinds of recessions, and as you can see, Obama faced a ballooning unemployment problem on day one in office. Likewise, it isn’t to compare the policy responses. It’s simply to note that if voters see a source of light at the end of the tunnel growing larger and brighter, and quickly, they respond favorably.
It’s worth noting that the unemployment rate can at times be a misleading indicator of the brightness of that light. For instance, though unemployment held steady at 8.3 percent in February, “there was an increase in the size of the labor force last month of 476,000,” said Alan Krueger, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, in an official statement. “Importantly, the increase in the labor force last month was due in large part to a reduction in the number of workers who exited the labor force between January and February.” A rapidly growing economy can result in a slow drop (or even an increase!) in the unemployment rate — creating a false sense of a faltering recovery, when indeed it’s quite the opposite.
But for now, it appears Obama’s recovery is proceeding steadily, though not as steeply as Reagan’s. That’s still good news politically for Obama. But with eight months to go before the election, the White House understandably wants things to pick up even more, both politically and for the sake of the country.
As Krueger told Bloomberg, “What we’d like to see is for this job growth to continue, for this to lead to a more virtuous cycle which raises aggregate demand and puts us on a stronger upward trajectory.”