Republicans, not all but some, were jubilant about Friday’s anaemic US jobs data. They shouldn’t have been. Not only is it bad politics to exult in such things but the numbers show just how signally GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney is failing to indict President Obama on the basis of the country’s economic performance. “Obama isn’t working” isn’t working.
Don’t tell that to the conservative American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukis, who blogged with more than a trace of schadenfreude, “This was not the employment report either American workers or the Obama campaign were hoping for.”
While the overall unemployment rate declined from 8.3% to 8.1% in August, this modest gain was more than offset by a larger than expected decline in the number of unemployed persons actively seeking full-time employment. If today’s labour participation rate was where it was when Obama entered the White House in January 2009, unemployment would now be 11.2% by Pethokoukis’ gleeful reckoning.
Equally encouraging from the GOP standpoint is an analysis by Dan Clifton of Strategas Research who claims to have found a strong statistical relationship between election year job growth and the re-electability of sitting presidents. He has a nice graph to show that unless they can claim better than 1.1%, incumbents are likely to go the way of Jimmy Carter and the elder George Bush, both denied second terms in trying economic times.
Ergo, based on current trajectory, the economy would have to generate 340,000 jobs in October for Obama to survive, Clifton contends. And that won’t happen, even if, as expected, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Federal Open Markets Committee approve another round of quantitative easing this week.
Whatever the economic stats can be massaged into saying, the polling data are telling a different story. Obama, after a successful and relatively well-watched nominating convention ( his acceptance speech attracted 35.7 million television viewers to Romney’s 30.3 million according to the Nielsen ratings company) now leads nationally by around five percentage points.
To get a real feel of where an American presidential election stands, state-by-state surveys are what you need to look at because victory is decided by the electoral votes (EV’s) each state awards on a winner take all basis.
Based on the PollTracker.com scoreboard, Obama now has a decisive lead — 10 points or more — in 13 states, including California and New York, with 172 EV’s. He looks strong in another five with 49 and is ahead in four more with 35. If all go his way, he is just 14 shy of the 270 needed to win.
Romney appears to have a lock on 19 states with 115 EV’s. Texas, with 38, is only a little less firmly in his grasp. Three more, with 38 between them, are leaning towards him. He needs to find another 79 from some combination of the six states — Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa — which are still very much in contention. If Obama holds the states he already seems to have in hand, then Florida, North Carolina and Ohio each have enough votes to put him over the top unassisted.
Why, personal appeal aside, is Romney not doing better in this economy?
Incumbents are tough to beat. It’s important to remember that the last one-termers, Carter and Bush senior, had problems Obama doesn’t. Not only was the economy in the grip of stagflation in 1980, Carter was far from the unanimous choice of own his party for a second term and had proved ineffectual in dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis. Even so, polls put him ahead of Ronald Reagan as late as October 27, 1980, days before the election. Bush senior might well have won re-election but for the third-party candidacy of Ross Perot.
Not only does Obama have the advantage of incumbency, he does have, and more importantly is seen by enough voters to have, a legitimate case that the Great Recession was not his doing. That is one reason the Republicans gave the younger George Bush the Jane-Eyre-madwoman-in-the-attic treatment during their convention. They did not want to remind anyone of the president on whose watch the American economy imploded.
What the candidates say is interesting because based upon a scientific delving into voters’ yearnings. It is clear from the rhetoric at both conventions that a decisive proportion of American voters see themselves as, or yearn to be, members of whatever the phrase “middle class” means to them.
Most have come associate middle classness with, above all, holding a stable and secure job, according a recent Pew Research Centre survey. The creativeness of the destruction wrought by the likes Romney’s Bain Capital is lost on those who have experienced more destruction than creation and on those who fear the same fate. Romney is not the ideal candidate for these times.