Posts Tagged ‘obama economy’
Obama’s second inaugural speech was 2,214 words long, but two very important words never got said: economy* and unemployment.
In fact, the subject of the struggling economy that dominated Obama’s first term never came up. Ask yourself: when was the last time you heard a major address that didn’t center entirely upon jobs, growth, and the woes of recession? Circa 2007, I’d reckon. The aftermath of the economic collapse has been so pernicious that it’s eaten up all other topics: immigration has primarily been a debate about job availability; climate change has been taken over by worries that environmental regulation will destroy economic growth; health care became about bending cost curves to stimulate growth rather than delivering insurance to those who needed it. Every issue has been reduced to: will it help jumpstart the economy, and if not, get it out of the way.
When viewed this way, the damage wreaked by the housing crisis and the banking collapse must be measured as more than the palpable effects of terms of joblessness, foreclosures, frozen credit, etc. By sucking all the oxygen out of the country, it deprived us of the ability to deal with anything else. Sure enough, the first and easiest response to any initiative Obama has proposed in the past four years has been that he’s diverting attention away from jobs and the economy; why, crowed Republicans, are we arguing about birth control access when there was an 8.3% unemployment? (Never mind that they started that fight.) Every debate became proxy debate for the economy, or got accused of playing distractor, or both. It was this ubiquity that caused many to view Obama’s 2009 health care push, as opposed to additional job and stimulus measures, as a huge mistake, and makes it all the more miraculous that he pulled it off.
The impressive array of causes Obama dealt with in his twenty minute speech to day shows how much we’ve missed while dealing with the fallout of the economy. Immigration, climate change, women’s pay, infrastructure, education, gay rights: these warranted peripheral mentions at best in former SOTU addresses or convention speeches, coming after 10-15 minutes of doleful talk about jobs and the deficit. Now they were the speech. They set the tone: this was not a lecture about sacrifice, for which Obama is an unenthusiastic salesman, but equality, which he could sell to anyone with two ears, and it was delivered in tones more redolent of his 2008 speeches than, say, his 2012 convention speech, or any of his mid-term addresses to Congress. This was Obama reclaiming his presidency from the circumstances in which he first found it four years ago, remembering what he would have done had he not been saddled by disaster from day one.
For a President who took office in an economic crisis, and who as recently as six months ago was considered doomed by a historically high unemployment rate, to not so much as mention the economy or unemployment is tantamount to a declaration of victory. The economy is by no means great, but it’s improving steadily, and Obama slyly but unmistakably took its weight off his shoulders. Republicans are no doubt roiling over his speech’s mentions of climate change and gay rights and immigration and so on, but the smart ones know what they didn’t hear.
* He used the word economy once, but in a general and irrelevant sense.
A question is making the rounds of the left side of the internet: why isn’t Obama doing better now that we have honest-to-God-no-fooling proof that the economy is on the uptick, a situation that crystalized in the unemployment rate’s recent descent to under eight percent? Here’s Howard Fineman, scratching his noggin:
The Obama campaign, and the Obama presidency, haven’t done a consistent or convincing job of touting whatever good news there is — and there are increasing amounts of it — about the economy. Yes, the unemployment rate remains high; yes, the “right direction/wrong track” poll numbers remain negative (though not as negative as they once were); yes, millions of Americans remain underwater on their mortgages while big banks horde cash and pile up huge profits.
But there is another side to the story, and the Obama campaign hasn’t sold it well, beyond talking, justifiably, about the success of the auto bailout. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in five years. The stock market has come back from the late Bush-era crash. Home starts and hiring are up. Venture capital groups are lending money again. If you don’t talk about the good stuff, no one else will.
This is merely the left’s version of the question Mitt Romney has been asking his campaign chairs and his mirror for the past five months: “Why am I not winning despite 8.3% unemployment?” As the GOP caviled that Romney was doing a poor job prosecuting Obama’s performance, Dems are now wondering why Obama won’t do a better job touting it.
Readers of this blog should already know the answer: Obama’s been benefiting from the improving economy this whole time. As Jamelle Bouie argued, quite convincingly, the heuristic that says that incumbent approval rates follow unemployment rates has never actually held: incumbent approval follows GDP growth (or lack thereof), which most of the time correlates to the unemployment rate. But not always: the economic recovery we’ve been experiencing in the past year has seen an increase in GDP that’s outpaced jobs added. In other words, the economy has been growing faster than the labor market, and sure enough, Obama’s approval rating slowly but steadily increased along with it. This was why job report after job report was released this summer showing desultory gains in employment without any of them having an effect on the race: the growth of the economy was palpable to voters (see also the increase in the consumer confidence index, whatever it is), no matter how many more-in-sorrow-than-anger post-jobs-report press conferences Mitt Romney could call to claim otherwise.
The flip side is that Obama’s already benefited from the good economic numbers we’re seeing now. He wasn’t being punished for bad jobs reports, because voters were rewarding him for the growing economy—but that also meant that there was no additional reward when evidence of the growing economy presented itself in the form of the unemployment rate dipping below an arbitrary threshold. The increase in Obama’s poll numbers that liberal bloggers are looking for now has already happened; it was, if anything, a lucky break that Obama was able to benefit from the economy without having to campaign on it explicitly, as many are now advising him to do, and thus run the risk of alienating swing voters who have yet to see their situation improve.
Obama’s sudden stagnation in the polls has many explanations—his poor debate performance, the dimming of the successful DNC’s afterglow, etc. But for now, we can at least speculate that there exists a ceiling to the amount voters were willing to reward him for the economy, which is not, after all, improving to the extent that it should be, whoever’s fault that is (hi, House Republicans). Which means Obama’s 49%-ish approval rating is the highest he could attain on the economy alone. Once he hit that, he had nowhere to go but down, and Romney was able to use a strong debate performance to begin chipping away. Obama could, by all means, still mount a successful defense of his economic policies (as opposed to continue to justifiably criticize Romney’s math-is-hard-just-trust-me proposal), but it’s more likely than not to produce significantly diminishing returns.
Though the headline says Obama’s lead “narrows,” he still is ahead in Monday’s Reuters/Ipsos poll by five among likely voters, the group most likely to tend rightward.* Keep in mind, the two candidates were statistically tied at the beginning of the conventions. As we’re almost two full weeks past the convention, there’s good reason to think this is no longer a long convention bounce we’re seeing, but a reflection of Romney’s stumbles: the public did not view his response to the Libya attacks favorably at all. And this is all before the Politico story on Romney’s shambling campaign or the revelation of a video showing Romney disparaging half the country as moochers, the former of which likely won’t matter to voters, but the latter of which could be devastating.
All of this means Obama’s five point lead is not likely to fade in the next week, at least. This has historical precedence, as Ezra Kelin explains:
The least-stable period of the campaign isn’t early in the year or in the fall. It’s the summer. That’s because the conventions have a real and lasting effect on a campaign.
“The party that gains pre- to post-convention on average improves by 5.2 percentage points as measured from our pre- and post-convention benchmarks,” write Erikson and Wlezien. “On average, the party that gains from before to after the conventions maintains its gain in the final week’s polls. In other words, its poll numbers do not fade but instead stay constant post-conventions to the final week.”
In other words, Obama’s five point lead is dead on, statistically, and likely to be permanent.
Also noteworthy: Obama is now leading Romney on who would do a better job on the economy, one of the only areas on which Romney has been beating the president, and the logic for his entire campaign.
* In contradistinction to registered voters, or the public in general.
The numbers are familiar and will be vigorously debated. Romney will focus on the unemployment rate; Obama will focus on the number of new jobs created. But the key phrase tying it all together for Romney is Obama economy. Those two words, repeatedly paired, will burden the president with perceived responsibility for the weak economy, regardless of the extent to which he (as opposed to President Bush, Wall Street, Europe, congressional Republicans, or other factors) is at fault.
Saletan is careful to say perceived responsibility, as anybody with two eyes who’s been alive for the past five years know the current economic malaise has little to do with our current president. I’m not making that up: voters simply have not switched blame for the current economy to Obama, and that includes the respondents of the most recent poll taken this week by Washington Post/ABC News. Poll respondents don’t approve, by a majority, of Obama’s handling of the economy, but that opinion seems heavily mediated by their understanding that Obama inherited an awful hand. For all the giant crop of articles being written about how Obama maintains his electoral advantage despite the 8.3% unemployment rate, you would think this fact would get mentioned more: voters still blame Bush for the economy.* The idea that a slew of Romney ads will change their minds when three-plus years of Republican efforts have failed to do so seems specious.
The economy is certainly paramount to any discussion of Romney’s electoral strategy. But the idea that voters will hold Obama responsible seems to be getting taken for granted in that discussion, when there’s not a lot of evidence to support it. I understand why the Republican National Convention avoided any mention of Bush; but I don’t see why the rest of us should.
* If you stand upside down during a harvest moon, you might see them blame a third party. Lemme explain.
There’s a pile of stuff to work through in the new WaPo/ABC News poll, but the most interesting is about Paul Ryan, if nothing than because we’ve been over the rest before. Follow me here:
- Ryan’s numbers are net positive, with 50-31 percent in approving of his choice. Seems like a nice figure, except that Republican VP’s Greatest Hits have all polled at 60% approval at this point. That’s right—both Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney had higher numbers than Ryan four and twelve years ago. Even Joe Lieberman garnered a 60% approval rating twelve years ago, which shows how lulled the Democratic Party was in 2000. Meanwhile, in terms of whether Galt For Halloween makes voters more or less likely to vote for the presidential candidate, respondents split evenly, 14-14, with 70% saying Ryan makes no difference. That’s at least ten points lower than both Biden and Palin got four years ago. Relative to previous elections—i.e., taking away how he factors into the specifics of this race—Paul Ryan is a weak choice for VP.
- When described in the abstract, respondents favor Paul Ryan’s budget plan 46-44. When the voucherization of Medicare is described with specifics, that number drops to 30-64%, with only 11% strongly supporting the plan. Assuming that anybody who would be scared by Obamacare is already a Romney voter—which is not a certainty, but a likelihood—and the Dems have way more to gain from going after Ryan on Medicare than the GOP has bashing Obama over Medicare.
Take these factors together, and Ryan seems like nothing but a liability to me. All that could change if he gives some amazing convention speech, of course. (Still, eight percent of respondents found Ryan too liberal. Can’t win for losing with this crowd.)
More of note:
- On the breakdowns of who handles what better, Romney bests Obama on the economy and the deficit, and Obama beats Romney on almost everything else. But more interesting is the change in all these numbers—Romney is down by three points on nearly every single issue, including the economy, from the last time the poll was taken. Romney beats Obama on the economy 46-44, but it was 49-44 seven weeks ago; he lost three points on handling small businesses, while Obama gained two. Those are not good signs for a candidate whose entire campaign is predicated on an economic argument. Combine this with Romney’s atrocious likability rating—only 27% like Romney—and you have an unlikable candidate who’s losing his only strength.
- Romney is down on almost every other metric—down four points on the deficit, three on health care, four on abortion and gay marriage*, and TEN** on energy. The uniformity of the drop suggests that it might have more to do with the sample than a change of opinion, but still, Romney is, at the very least, making no headway against Obama on any issue.
- Romney is beating Obama on who would handle the economy by a statistically-negligent two points, but he loses, by a lot, on economic breakdown questions. Who better understands the economic problems people are having? Obama, 49-37. Whose policies favor the middle class? Obama, 2-1. Romney presents himself with an aura of competence, so I can see why people side with him overall on the economy; but like his running mate, his image breaks down under the slightest scrutiny.
- Romney beats Obama by five points on handling taxes. This may have been heard more as a competence question than an ideological one. If you asked me in a bar, “Who’s better at handling taxes, Romney or Obama?” I’d say, “Mitten, of course! He’s so good he won’t even release them for fear of bragging.”
- Most important, to me: respondents still blame Bush for the economy. This explains a lot of why Obama is still doing so well, despite the high unemployment rate, slow recovery, etc. For all that we hear about the short memories of the general populace, Romney & Co. have failed to make this Obama’s economy. Since Romney doesn’t offer anything else, they haven’t given voters who don’t blame Obama for the economy enough of a reason to drop him.
* I still don’t understand why abortion and gay marriage are both grouped together under the same category.
** This seems to deserve more comment than my paltry understanding of energy policy can give it. A ten point shift is massive, especially given that nothing of note has happened in terms of energy or the environment. What happened?
Americans Want A Small Government That Invests Heavily To Grow The Economy But Maintain Economic Freedom
Via Greg Sargeant:
The NBC/WSJ poll also finds that Romney holds the edge on who has good ideas for improving the economy, 43-36. But 80 percent say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who will fight for fairness and encourage investments to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class, versus 68 percent who lean towards restoring “economic freedom” and “small government.” And Obama leads on who would fight for the middle class, 49-33.
Here’s the actual question:
Q22 Now, I’m going to read you some statements you could hear about government and the economy from candidates running for president. After I read each statement, please tell me if you would be more or less likely to vote for that candidate, or if it would make no difference in whether you would vote for that candidate. (IF MORE, THEN ASK:) And would you be much more likely or just somewhat more likely to vote for this candidate? The (first/next) one is a candidate for president who…
Will fight for balance and fairness and encourage the investments needed to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class
July 2012+ ………………………………. 80
Wants to restore the values of economic freedom, opportunity, and small government.
July 2012+ ………………………………. 68
So that means a minimum of 56% want both. Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others, I guess. Memo to future pollsters: it might be helpful to make respondents choose between these two options, so they don’t end up supporting Bamittrack ObRomney.
Yesterday, I discussed Jennifer Rubin’s indictment of the “media,” however she defines it, for focusing on the Bain attacks rather than the state of the economy. Rubin’s theory was that the 8.2% unemployment rate—which looks to be here to stay for a while—was 100% for sure going to tank Obama’s reelection chances, so the media was being irresponsible by actually vetting Obama’s opponent, as Romney is going to win no matter what so who cares. The problem with this is that we’ve had 8.1-8.2% unemployment for a while now, and it hasn’t impacted Obama’s numbers at all. He remains 2-3 points ahead of Romney in national polls, and 3-6 points ahead in swing states. Rubin was so convinced of a correlation between unemployment and a defeated incumbent that she wanted the media to report it even though it hadn’t shown up yet. I called that crazy.
Jamelle Bouie at the Prospect goes me one further, using data from Nate Silver that the correlation itself may be an illusion:
Pace almost all election coverage, unemployment doesn’t actually tell you much about the final outcome of an election…There’s almost no relationship between the unemployment rate on Election Day and the fate of the candidates. It’s fun trivia to note that Obama is running with the highest unemployment rate since 1936, but alone, it doesn’t say anything about Obama’s position with the electorate.
(He has a chart, so if you’re a visual learner click over. )
So what can haz correlation?
By contrast, there is a significant relationship between final election outcomes and either GDP growth or growth in personal income. Indeed, if you’re trying to explain Obama’s continued strength in the polls—despite a sluggish economy—look no further than the fact that growth is positive on both counts. This isn’t to say that it’s good—the economy is predicted to have grown by 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and income is up by only 0.3 percent—but that it’s unusual for incumbents to lose when there’s any growth at all.
This really does explain it all. High unemployment is often coincident with lack of growth, and is a more visible symptom of a stagnant economy, so it’s no wonder that it’s been the focus of warnings for Obama. But our economy is growing. It’s not growing as quickly or as strongly as we want it to, which is why Obama’s not running away with the election, but if you want an explanation as to why he’s still ahead of Generic Candidate R, look no further than the fact that the economy is in forward motion.
Bouie and Silver both think Romney is overreacting to the Bain attacks, as Romney’s national polling numbers haven’t moved in the last three months either. I’d disagree with this. Romney’s behind, not just in national polling numbers, but in favorability ratings, in swing states, in whom voters trust, etc. Stagnation for Romney is defeat. All the Bain attacks need to do is keep him where he’s at, which is precisely what they’re doing.