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ESSA

Obama’s Moment – Unemployment and the 2012 Presidential Election


Chris Weinberg

By

March 25th, 2012


As Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the cadre of Republican primary hopefuls traversed the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire in mid-January, President Barack Obama’s team in the White House sweated over the state of unemployment.


Aurthor: DonkeyHotey

As Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the cadre of Republican primary hopefuls traversed the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire in mid-January, President Barack Obama’s team in the White House sweated over the state of unemployment.

Whilst the economic recovery had begun to take hold (as reflected in improved GDP figures), the unemployment rate had not appreciably fallen over the course of Obama’s term, stubbornly stuck (for the Obama White House and the American worker), above 9% for the bulk of 2010 and flat-lining in the mid 8’s as debt and deficit reduction under the new Republican House majority dominated the conversation in 2011.

However, when the Labor Department announced that American unemployment had dropped 0.2% over January, a gain of 243,000 jobs, the conventional wisdom of a President burdened by the millstone of pervasive and deep-seated unemployment began to dissipate.

Whilst no President since Franklin Roosevelt has won re-election with an unemployment rate stuck above 8%, the general consensus is that an Obama re-election is more than a 50/50 chance, provided the monthly change in added jobs continues to remain in the vicinity of 250,000.

As Nate Silver in The New York Times noted, President Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 with unemployment at 7.4%, after plummeting from 9.5% the year before.

Such is Obama’s challenge; whilst the numbers are not ideal presently, if the economy can give the impression of making significant, steady gains in employment over the next 8 months, the perception for the American voter will be one of an American comeback; and with that would come a likely re-election of the President.

Whether this period is looked back on as the moment when Obama’s re-election went from being potentially hazardous to a near certainty depends on the trend of the unemployment rate for the rest of 2012.

The biggest factor in determining this trend will be whether the long-term unemployed, currently out of the labour force, decide to re-enter the market and look for a job in an atmosphere of improved hiring conditions; thus placing upward pressure on the unemployment rate.

This dynamic coupled with the impending cuts in the federal budget and the unemployment rates in various swing states could be the difference for this President as he seeks to secure a successful legacy, entirely predicated on his re-election.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

  • Hubert Ancelot

    Considering the census of the next states in play for the primary, I would predict (as did Many political analysts) that Romney wins the primary. Assuming this, you now have to look at the demographics. The most unemployed are minorities: mostly Hispanics and Blacks. Romney just doesn’t have their vote. Hence, the issue of unemployment is much more one of image rather than digits. Romney’s electoral base consists mainly of white, and upper and middle conservative class: the groups that have been the most protected during the GFC in America. If Obama can prove that his policies have been more unorthodox than strictly liberal, and that cuts in spending are not the solution to the unemployment ‘crisis’, he will certainly diminish the Romney threat. He already gained points after Romney’s jest ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt’, and you can expect to see that coming back to him in the following months.

    • http://www.twitter.com/CRJWeinberg Chris Weinberg

      Agreed Hubert. The demographics are of incredible importance and will have vast influence in individual swing states.

      However, Romney’s position with Latinos could change if he nominates Marco Rubio (Florida Senator) as his VP.

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