Politics: White House

Obama: Tea Party Movement is Not so Bad

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April 15, 2011, 11 a.m.

A Rasmussen Re­ports (IVR) poll; con­duc­ted 10/10; sur­veyed 750 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.6% (re­lease, 10/11). Tested: Ex-Trail Blazers cen­ter Chris Dud­ley (R) and ex-Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). (Note: Trends from 7/26 and earli­er are without lean­ers.)

Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

On Fri­day at 8:30 a.m., the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics will re­lease the Novem­ber un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures. Like many oth­er eco­nom­ic stat­ist­ics and poll num­bers, their im­pact on 2012 may now seem the­or­et­ic­al or hy­po­thet­ic­al. But with the gen­er­al elec­tion less than 12 months away, they are be­com­ing more and more rel­ev­ant.  

Eco­nom­ists ex­pect the Novem­ber job­less rate to be around the same 9.0 per­cent rate it was in Oc­to­ber, which was down one tick from 9.1 per­cent in the three pre­vi­ous months. Un­em­ploy­ment had been 8.9 per­cent in Feb­ru­ary and 8.8 per­cent in March. Oth­er­wise, it has been 9.0 per­cent or high­er since May of 2009, top­ping out at 10.1 per­cent in Oc­to­ber 2009. Not so closely watched but more polit­ic­ally telling will be the U-6 rate. This is a meas­ure­ment that adds the un­em­ploy­ment rate with the per­cent­age of people work­ing part-time but seek­ing full-time work, along with those who have giv­en up look­ing all to­geth­er.  For Oc­to­ber, the U-6 rate was 16.2 per­cent, down three-tenths of a point from 16.5 per­cent in Septem­ber.

It’s highly un­likely, in­deed un­real­ist­ic, for Demo­crats to ex­pect a re­play of the 1981-84 Re­agan eco­nomy, where un­em­ploy­ment peaked at 10.8 per­cent in Novem­ber 1982. That co­in­cided with an ugly midterm elec­tion. The job­less rate dropped to 8.5 per­cent by Novem­ber 1983. It was on its way down to 7.4 per­cent in Oc­to­ber 1984, the month be­fore Re­agan’s reelec­tion. It reached 7.2 per­cent in Novem­ber.  The Fed­er­al Re­serve Board last week re­leased the minutes of its Nov. 1-2 meet­ing, along with the fore­casts for the Fed board mem­bers and pres­id­ents of the re­gion­al Fed­er­al Re­serve banks. Among all board mem­bers and re­gion­al pres­id­ents, the range of job­less fore­casts for the fourth quarter of next year (the time of the elec­tion) was 8.1 per­cent to 8.9 per­cent. The cent­ral tend­ency, which drops out the fore­casts for the three most op­tim­ist­ic and the three most pess­im­ist­ic, res­ul­ted in a range of 8.5 per­cent to 8.7 per­cent. If the most op­tim­ist­ic of the Fed of­fi­cials’ fore­casts turn out to be pres­ci­ent, it’s easi­er to see how Obama gets reelec­ted. It will still be a chal­lenge but will be con­sid­er­ably more plaus­ible than if the pess­im­ists turn out to be right and the job­less rate is little bet­ter than the cur­rent 9.0 per­cent.

In terms of pres­id­en­tial job ap­prov­al, Obama’s Gal­lup weekly ap­prov­al rat­ings have ranged between 40 per­cent and 45 per­cent since his 46 per­cent dur­ing the week of Ju­ly 4-10. The last time his weekly Gal­lup ap­prov­al meas­ured 48 per­cent or more was May 30-June 5, when he reached 50 per­cent. That 48 per­cent to 50 per­cent could po­ten­tially be an im­port­ant tip­ping point. Go­ing in­to Elec­tion Day, Pres­id­ents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter had Gal­lup ap­provals of 34 per­cent and 37 per­cent, re­spect­ively. Those above that range were Pres­id­ents Clin­ton (54 per­cent), Re­agan (58 per­cent), Nix­on (59 per­cent), and Eis­en­hower (68 per­cent). Most in­ter­est­ingly, the only oth­er post-World War II elec­ted in­cum­bent seek­ing reelec­tion, George W. Bush, had a fi­nal preelec­tion Gal­lup ap­prov­al of 48 per­cent. He won nar­rowly, best­ing Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., 51 per­cent to 48 per­cent in an elec­tion best re­membered for exit polls on Elec­tion Day show­ing Kerry ahead. Obama scored weekly ap­provals of 50 per­cent or bet­ter in five weeks dur­ing the first half of this year and of 48 or 49 per­cent in sev­en more dur­ing that time, but none above 46 per­cent since the Fourth of Ju­ly. While there is noth­ing ne­ces­sar­ily ma­gic­al about the per­cent­ages 48 or 49 or 50, it stands to reas­on that Obama’s chances of get­ting reelec­ted are a lot bet­ter if his ap­prov­al rat­ing is at that level or high­er.

That’s where those eco­nom­ic num­bers and the poll stand­ings come to­geth­er. A pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate who ran in part on hope had bet­ter have voters feel­ing some hope that the eco­nomy is get­ting bet­ter, or that their lives are either get­ting bet­ter or show­ing signs that they will get bet­ter soon.  While most Amer­ic­ans don’t ne­ces­sar­ily feel that things are hope­less right now, they don’t see many signs that should make them feel hope­ful any time soon.  

For Obama to have a real­ist­ic chance of win­ning, un­em­ploy­ment would need to drop by more than a couple of tenths of a per­cent­age point. Eco­nom­ic (GDP) growth or con­sumer con­fid­ence would need to im­prove, and some of these met­rics would need to move. This is en­tirely pos­sible. The rising share na­tion­ally and in some key states of Lati­nos (who voted in 2008 for Obama, 67 per­cent to 31 per­cent) can be ex­pec­ted to help Demo­crats out some. But in lieu of some eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, that kind of mar­gin might not hold. All Demo­crats need to do is look back to 2004, when they only car­ried the Latino vote by nine points, 53 per­cent to 44 per­cent. Sure, scape­goat­ing of the im­mig­rant com­munity by some Re­pub­lic­ans has cre­ated some real scar tis­sue among Latino voters. But an 11.4 per­cent Oc­to­ber un­em­ploy­ment rate among His­pan­ics can undo a lot of the ex­cite­ment that ex­is­ted in that com­munity for Obama in 2008.

In short, while stat­ist­ics are just num­bers, they re­flect a real­ity; they are a win­dow in­to what is go­ing on in voters’ lives and how they look at things. In oth­er words, these num­bers mat­ter.


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