Senior White House political adviser David Axelrod recently made the case that one of three ways the Democrats could improve their position in the 2010 mid-terms would be for job growth and an economic recovery. Obviously an economy that is creating jobs rather than simply shedding them is more helpful to the party in power, but an economy that is growing jobs does not automatically dampen the political pain facing the party of an unpopular President.
As Neil Newhouse and Jeremy Ruch noted in this TQIA blog post:
President Obama’s job approval in the January 2-4 Gallup Daily tracking was the second lowest in the modern era for Presidents starting their second year in office.
Moreover, since Gallup first started measuring Presidential job approval, every single President has had a lower job approval on the last poll before their first mid-term election than they did at the beginning of that year.
Thus, it is much more likely than not that Obama’s approval rating will go down, instead of up. His approval rating is not helped by the terrible ratings for his health care plan — a plan that even if passed, does not go into effect until 2014, so it is unlikely that attitudes will suddenly shift.
A historical comparison can be made with the last Democratic President, Bill Clinton, and his first two years in office. The highest unemployment was when he took the oath of office — 7.3%. It then started dropping, slowly but consistently. By July of 1993, unemployment was down to 6.9%, and by January of 1994 it was 6.6%. By October of 1994 it was down to 5.8%. Thus, unemployment fell 1.5% from the time Clinton took office to the Republican wins of 1994.
Bill Clinton and the Democrats didn’t get any credit for it. Partly because the discontented voter was not solely focused on jobs and the economy. Clinton’s government-first approach to everything backfired.
Pundits and Dems will make the case that because the economy is so important right now, that any improvement will accrue to the Democrats. However, unemployment was 7.6% when Obama took over. It is very difficult for unemployment to drop more than one percent in a year. It is unlikely to go much below 9% by November.
Even if it does, it is not likely that Obama will receive a lot of credit from voters (although the media will be doing their damnedest). Between his spending policies, the impact on the debt, cramming a health care bill that is wildly unpopular down the throats of voters, trying to close Gitmo, and a general willingess to run down America in his foreign speeches, the President’s challenges run much deeper than simply an unemployment rate that has skyrocketed during his time in office.
So, for Democrats hoping that a drop in the unemployment rate back to single digits will help their fortunes in less than eleven months, it’s fine to keep hoping, but change is coming. Voters want a check and balance on unmitigated power in Washington.