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Job Approval, 1994, and 2010

Is 2010 shaping up to be another 1994?  According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Obama's job approval rating has been between 50 and 47 since the beginning of the year.  Gallup puts Obama's approval at 47.  To compare, at this same point in Clinton's first term, his job approval in the Gallup poll was 46 and would head up to 49 by the end of the month before dropping to 39 in September and end up back at 46 again the week of the midterm elections.  So if the pattern holds, it looks like some of the conditions for 1994-like Republican gains are there.

But there are also reasons for long-term concern for Obama opponents.  The unemployment rate for Jan-Nov 1994 varied from 6.6 to 5.9.  The unemployment rate for the year to date has varied from 9.7 to 9.9.  Obama has been keeping his approval ratings at about Clinton in 1994 levels during a much worse job market.  And as Daniel Larison has pointed out (I can't remember when he posted it), Obama's approval ratings have been much more stable than Clinton's.  I'm not sure exactly what all this means except that Obama's popularity has been holding up remarkably well given the labor market and that even a modest decline in the unemployment (say to the low 7s) could, absent some perceived foreign policy disaster, push Obama's job approval rating into the 50s and put him in a very strong position for reelection. 

One of the things that jumps out at me about the relationship between the unemployment rate and a President's job approval rating is how context-dependent it is even absent foreign policy disasters like Iraq in 2006 or rally-round-the-flag effects due to events like Reagan getting shot.  Reagan had high approval ratings for most of 1984, but the unemployment rate for most of the year was in the 7s - which isn't that good by the standards of the last thirty years.  But it was alot better than the 10 percent or more unemployment of much of 1982.  Probably just as important, the halving of inflation rate from 1981-1984 halted the erosion of the living standards of those who had jobs.  Obama, after this recession, might also be running for reelection in a country with reduced expectations for what a "low" unemployment rate looks like. 

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 10 Comments

A good counter-argument on the basis of authority.

Now here's one on the basis of anecdote: talked with one of my oldest friends today (seriously, I've known her since I was 3). She was an enthusiastic Obama supporter and is probably, in general, an ordinary liberal--esp. on social policy. She now lives in Florida so I asked her about the impact of the spill. The first words out of her mouth were critical of Obama and the government handling of the situation. She went on the remark that the dithering of a lumbering big government in the face of such a disaster is the result of over-regulation . . . that they wouldn't be drilling so far out if it weren't for the regulations demanding it, and so on. I'm not speaking to the pros and cons of this argument but I do think this is a significant change in thinking on her part. I think there is a growing and massive disenchantment with Obama coming.

The expectations he allowed to be built around himself were so devoid of actual content that his performance is bound to be a major let-down. We have our "cool" president . . . but it turns out that running with the cool kids is pretty over-rated (just like it was in high school).

Julie, I don't actually disagree with Barone (much) when it comes to this year. I think that the Republicans have very good chance to make major gains - though my gut, and not any facts tells me that they probably won't be quite as big as in 1994.

The polls so far don't show any massive disenchantment with Obama even given the high unemployment rate and the unpopular health care bill. We know what a really unpopular President looks like. Obama isn't popular, just alot less unpopular than you would think given the unemployment rate. The Gulf oil spill and the persitence of high unemployment could break the back of Obama's pretty durable (given the circumstances) approval ratings, but something like the reverse is also true. Even a modest improvement in the economy could push him into pretty comfortable reelection territory.

Pete I think republicans might just pull it off in the house.

I mean right now the bets going foward on Intrade put the odds of a republican majority in the House of Representatives at 47.4 %.
The odds on Intrade of a Republican winning in 2012 is about as it currently stands republicans have a greater chance of recapturing the house than they do of winning the presidency.

As it so happens if this is 1994, loosing the House would be good for Obama, as it was good for Clinton. I think the market might like it if republicans took the house.

You know Clinton is still popular, not at NLT but generally I think this is true. I don't think you have to be partisan to wish it was 1994. In fact it might help if you aren't partisan.

Because technically in terms of politics it might be best if Republicans don't take the house, let democrats laugh at the republican wave that didn't happen, because frankly it will be a long 2 more years no matter who is elected, and nostalgia for 1994-1996 only really exists because we had peace and prosperity.

The drop in unemployment from 9.9 to 9.7 was really a horrible number. I mean it was all census workers and the additional jobs added depending on how you do the math weren't even the positive 12k because some people retired, the 12k doesn't even replace them and the shift from 9.9 to 9.7 reflects a lot of people no longer looking for work and thus not calculated.

That is unemployment is having a hard time falling even with drops in participation. Why do you have drops in participation? I think one of the reasons is what Barrone says: "Higher taxes on high earners next year, when Democrats will let the Bush tax cuts expire, will tend to retard rather than stimulate growth."

That is I am worried about a shifting effect, we had great numbers to make a bullish case from in late 2009 and 2010 but cresting is never good. What if the unemployment rate falls from 9.7 to 9 percent only because a lot of wealthier older people retire and thus are no longer participating and no longer count in the statistics, this is hardly bullish.

There is a scenario where unemployment goes from 9.7 to 10.7 and the economy is better off than when unemployment goes from 9.7 to 8.7. That is the higher number is at least better if more people want to work but can't, than if fewer people want to work. That is workforce participation is important to track.

Even worse than the census proping up the unemployment is the prospect that fewer people are looking for work, and that this is proping it up and that numbers in 2010 were inflated both by stimulus, increased spending and lower taxes that are set to expire in Jan 1, 2011 thus prompting workforce participation to plumet thus providing a slight decrease in unemployment.

That is unemployment at 9% in 2011 could and might well be worse than 10% in 2010.

If unemployment is at 9% in 2011 only because of workforce participation drops we could very well avoid a double dip in the stock market, but get stuck with a sideways trading gradual down sloping market.

This is all based more on feelings than facts but I have a bad feeling about the markets in the short to medium term.

Its not just where unemployment is at, what the numbers looked like vs. the expectation, but also what happens when you figure in the tax changes of 2011.

I am starting to think any growth in the Bush era was cooked, and because of the way the multipliers work when you use a discounted cash flow to figure out the value of a company it ends up making a huge difference if you are paying 15% vs. paying 39.6% on dividends, not that the market prices stock according to fundamental analysis, or the value of dividends...but it does in some cases....potentially the tax cuts of the Bush years actually held down stock prices and estimates because folks figured they were too low to last with deficit spending. But if stocks are currently priced today to figure in paying 15% of dividends proceeds, when you figure for 39.6% it gets ugly. 10,000 to 7300 on the dow, or a 26% difference. But who knows what is priced in?

Obama has a rock-solid base that most (white) Democrats don't enjoy -- the complete loyalty of minority voters. If we are going to beat him in 2012, it will have to be using the Rove model (mobilizing suburbs and rural areas with heavy white voter registration). That's the reality, so we better get used to it.

John Lewis, lts of thoughtful points. I'll think about them in a post a little later in the week. You'll get credit.

Redwald, the Rove model involved winning about 40% of the Latino, Asian, and nonwhite, non-African American vote ("other" in the exit poll). Obama carried those groups by about 2 to 1. I guess it is possible to improve upon Bush's 58% among white voters, but probably not by much. Even with 10 percent(ish) unemployment, Obama's job approval among whites is only down to 39%. Barring a slide into depression, it probably won't be lower than that on election day 2012, and it might well be higher if the employment sitution improves. If the job market doesn't improve by 2012 it is possible to see how a combination of a good Republican GOTV operation (which was lacking in 2008) plus a large movement of white persuadables to Republicans (like we saw in the Scott Brown election) can lead to a Republican victory if they field a good, unalienating candidate. But I'm not betting that the job market will be as bad in 2012 and the Republicans shouldn't count on an election model that depends on winning 60% or more of the white vote.

Then you'd better bet on losing. The Hispanic vote is really all that's "in play." And pandering to them on immigration is a loser -- the base isn't gonna vote for "democrat-lite" again.

Redwald, well not just the Latino vote, but I get what you mean. The data is ambiguous, but my read on the PPP polls in the Scott Brown election (which were very close to the election resutls) is that Brown did pretty well among Asian American voters - though they are a small part of the overall voting population (2%) every bit helps.

I don't think there is a large fraction of Latino voters who are not single-issue pro-amnesty voters. I think an attractive economic agenda (which would be anything but Democrat-Lite) and a commitment to selling it to Latino voters (really complicated and expensive) can go along with a policy that opposes amnesty under current circumstances. For what is the most politic possible conservative immigration policy, Ramesh Ponnuru has a good article in National Review

In the first sentence of the last last paragraph, don't should be do.

I think putting together an overwhelming "white" coalition is possible given the way Obama is leaking independents. I think one strategy is to siphon off some of his union support by reminding white ethnics and working class people that he hasn't really done much for them (nor is likely to). Along these lines, I just read that his administration is cutting back on work-study programs for college students! Plenty of money for bank bailouts, but 60% less for college students from working class families. What a great commercial!

Another strategy is to play up his resistance to the new Arizona laws (Hispanic vote be damned). The fact is, Obama is committed to a nation riddled with identity-based politics, and that plays poorly with the vast majority of white voters (as well it should). It also plays poorly with established Hispanics (who often favor lower immigration, legal or otherwise).

Of course, the third strategy aimed at Hispanics is the "family values" strategy. Strong foundations in faith and family link Hispanics to the Right, and we should starting using that link more effectively.

Redwald, no worries since any winning Republican coaltion in the future will have very large white majorities (winning Democratic coalitions too, but less so). A losing Republican coalition will be even more white. A focus on economic issues that can plausibly offer more job creation and higher living standards should have some significant cross racial and cros ethnic appeal.

I don't know what role immigration will play in 2010 and 2012, but the evidence from 2008 s that immigration was not a high priority issue then (which doesn't mean ignore it.) The less pro-amnesty, more pro-border security party picked John McCain to be its nominee. Yeah, I know he pretended (and pretends still today) to have changed his mind, but come on.

I think that Obama's support of amnesty is okay to go after, but I think that the best policy is to come up with, and clearly articulate a program of border security that was able to curtail the vast majority of illegal entry, a tamper resistant ID system and argue that a limited amnesty would only after those two policies are implemented - and make it clear that implementing those policies will be an administration priority. I think that such a policy could get majority support while minimizing the pushback from the Latino community. I also think it would be good policy.

I really recommend reading Ramesh Ponnuru's article on amnesty in National Review.

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