Pethokoukis, Politics and Public Opinion

The 7.6% barrier: The unemployment rate and Obama’s reelection chances


Dan Clifton of Strategas Research:

Today’s employment report provides another headwind for President Obama’s reelection. Employment growth is not strong enough to boost real incomes. As a result, sentiment remains very tepid. It is this sentiment that translates directly into how voters view their elected officials. We have found a fairly strong inverse correlation between the President’s approval rating and the unemployment rate. No President has won reelection with an approval rating below 50 pct.

And this makes sense. If half the country approves of the job the president is doing, then it is likely that incumbent will win reelection. As such, we have often repeated that it is more important to watch President Obama’s approval rating than to watch the horse race between Obama and Romney until we get to the political conventions later this summer.

On the current trajectory, the President would need the unemployment rate to fall to 7.6 pct to get near the critical 50 pct approval threshold. This was much more plausible several months ago as a 0.1 pct drop per month would take the President to this level. But the drop in the unemployment rate has stalled out in recent months and the President will need substantial employment growth in the next three months to gain the support for reelection.

“Substantial improvement” is understating things. I think there is zero realistic chance of the unemployment rate dropping to 7.6% by Election Day. Just to break 8.0% — assuming labor force participation stays constant — would require 219,000 jobs a month between now and then. The ceiling is probably more like 150,000.

Does that mean President Obama is already toast? I don’t think so. Every election represents its own little microverse. And anyway, we really don’t have huge data set to draw upon. Mitt Romney still must seal deal with voters. So check back after the convention and the presidential debates. But the weak economy and Obama’s frozen approval ratings does place his reelection in great jeopardy.

2 thoughts on “The 7.6% barrier: The unemployment rate and Obama’s reelection chances

  1. You write “No President has won reelection with an approval rating below 50 pct.” yet you show GWBII below 50%. Why?

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