Unemployment And Politics

Today’s news that the unemployment rate had fallen another tenth of a percentage point in March was quickly touted by the White House and, as Chris Cillizza points out it’s not at all hard to understand why:

A downward trend line on the unemployment rate — if not a drastic reduction in the actual number — will allow the President to make the case that the economic policies he put into place over his first term in office are working and, therefore, he needs a second term to make things even better.

One need only to look as far as Ronald Reagan for evidence of the power of the economic trend line.

In March 1983, the unemployment rate stood at 10.3 percent. It steadily declined over the intervening 20 months and in October 1984 it stood at 7.3 percent.

While a 7.3 percent unemployment rate was no one’s economic dream scenario, the movement was in Reagan’s direction. And voters reacted accordingly — handing him a 49-state re-election victory over Walter Mondale.

Obama has to hope the unemployment trend line follows that same pattern for the remaining 19 months of his first term. If it does, his hand will be considerably strengthened in his bid for a second term.

Cilizza also points to a study from Republican analyst Matt McDonald that 185,000 new jobs will need to be created each month, on average, in order for the unemployment rate to be below 8% by Election Day 2012. Given that we’ve had two months in a row now of job growth above or near 200,000 jobs created, that is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Republicans will, no doubt, point to the fact that the rate is higher than it was before Obama took office, but if the trend is heading downward by Election Day, then Barack Obama will likely be in a pretty good position. He may not get the landslide that Reagan did in 1984, but all you need is 270 Electoral Votes to win and that’s certainly within the realm of possibility if the economy holds up.


FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Economics and Business, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    The real question is how much can the Republicans intentionally f*ck up the economic recovery for electoral purposes?

  2. Tlaloc says:

    You know it occurs to me that republicans could probably get everything they want economically if they just tried to make sure the middle class wasn’t so screwed. Why do you think people are so terrified of cutting SS and medicare? Because they, by and large, have no other hope of being able to retire and get health care as seniors. Why? Because the middle class has been gutted by class warfare by the rich for the last 30 years. Or more realistically the warfare goes back millenia but in the US the middle was winning for a while after the great depression until the 70s. Reagan pretty well screwed that up and since the gipper the momentum has been all on the side of the rich, with no indication they ever intends to stop raping everyone else.

    So that being the case why would the majority support attacks on their social support systems. If the GOP supported policies that strengthened the middle class they could almost certainly get the social welfare reductions they want.

    Of course they only want those reductions because the social safety nets are slightly slowing the ability of the wealthy to impoverish everyone else, so it’d be counterproductive to their goal to actually help the middle class (much less the poor). It’s sort of funny when you think about it.

    Of course, I’ve been told I have a very morbid sense of humor.

  3. Tano says:

    Reagan’s near landslide was 58.5% of the vote. I am finding it more and more likely that Obama will reach that number. Given the right opponent, I think the real landslide threshold – 60% – is within the realm of possiblity.

  4. Tano says:

    58.8% I meant…

  5. jwest says:

    “I think the real landslide threshold – 60% – is within the realm of possibility.”

    I’ve long known that liberals could talk themselves into just about anything, but this really takes the cake. Operating in an alternate universe, the left seems to be in a state of denial not seen since the Nixon/McGovern race.

    Now that the novelty of electing the first black president has worn off, what could possibly save this first term failure? With upside down approval numbers, exceptionally weak leadership polls, high unemployment and even higher real unemployment, near astronomical gas prices, rising foreclosures, low house values, 3 wars, escalating foreign tension, never-before imagined deficits and debt and a myriad of other problems, reelection is little more than a liberal pipe dream.

    Add to this an unpopular healthcare program, quickly rising food costs, stagnant wages and the belief among 11% of democrats and 23% of independents that Obama probably wasn’t born in the country and it certainly doesn’t point to a “landslide” for team blue.

    Breathtaking naiveté.

  6. TG Chicago says:

    It’s “within the realm of possibility” that Obama will be re-elected? This after numerous OTB posts explaining how an incumbent president is practically a lock to win re-election?

    You were wrong to over-estimate Obama’s re-election hopes, and you’re wrong to say they’re merely “within the realm of possibility” now. His odds are a bit greater than 50%. I know it’s more sensational to go back and forth claiming that Obama is a sure bet or he’s doomed, but it makes you look ridiculous.

    @jwest: you snipped a vital portion of Tano’s statement: “Given the right opponent…” I agree that “given the right opponent”, Obama could win 60%. However, that opponent would have to be someone truly awful. Assuming the GOP ends up with someone like Romney, Daniels, or Pawlenty — which I believe they will — Obama will not get anything like 60% of the vote. Nor will he get anything like 40%. He’ll probably get something between 47 and 53.