With only three monthly jobs reports left before Nov. 6, President Obama needs every piece of good economic news he can get to add to his argument for re-election.
Friday’s employment report certainly provided some. The Labor Department reported that the economy added an unexpectedly strong 163,000 jobs in July. Forecasters had predicted that the economy would add as much as 100,000 jobs, so the report took most everyone by surprise.
But the Labor Department also reported that the jobless rate rose slightly to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent. Statistically, that tenth of a percent didn’t mean much, according to the Labor Department.
Politically, however, it was significant, since the uptick allowed the president’s opponents, particularly Republican rival Mitt Romney, to continue his argument that Obama has failed to turn around the economy and has no idea how to do so.
In short, the report maintained the status quo of the presidential race. It suggested that the economic recovery was still intact, though weaker than any recovery since World War II.
The upside wasn’t so big as to have Democrats whistling “Happy Days Are Here Again,” nor the downside so bad as to make Republicans ever more confident of a Romney victory in November.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt Obama on the economy. It doesn’t blow things away. But he’s doing pretty well in the polls in several battleground states that are adding jobs, where unemployment rates are going down, like in Ohio.
“So this isn’t super news but it’s good news for Obama. And not so good news for Mitt Romney. It would have been better [for Obama] if they had created even more jobs, but that’s quite a few jobs.”
With the election less than 100 days away now, voter perceptions of the economy are pretty much baked in, with only a small percent of the electorate still persuadable, according to Thurber. And the closer Election Day gets, the fewer voters will be in that group, with perhaps only 10 percent to 12 percent of voters still open to persuasion 30 days before the election, Thurber said.
“So all these billions of dollars being spent are being spent on those people in those battleground states. A dramatic change in the economy, an improvement might change that slightly. And certainly if it gets negative dramatically, that could change it a little bit.
“But basically [a tenth of percentage point change in the jobless rate] is not going to make that much of a difference in that swing vote, in my opinion.”
Thurber cites the presidential election forecast models by political scientists like Alan Abramowitz at Emory University and others, like Nate Silver of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, which show Obama with a better than even chance for re-election based on economic data.
Thurber’s point: It would take a game changer of an event to really change the dynamics of those models. And Friday’s jobs report was not a game changer event.
Not only are voter attitudes mostly baked in at his point; so are the campaigns, both of which issued statements that could have been written before Friday.
Romney’s campaign issued the following statement, quoting him:
“Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families. Yesterday I launched my Plan for a Stronger Middle Class that will bring more jobs and more take home pay. My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with twelve million new jobs created by the end of my first term. President Obama doesn’t have a plan and believes that the private sector is ‘doing fine.’ Obviously, that is not the case. We’ve now gone 42 consecutive months with the unemployment rate above eight percent. Middle class Americans deserve better, and I believe America can do better.”
Meanwhile, the White House’s top economist, Alan Krueger, argued — as he has on past first Fridays of the month — that the jobs report was surely a sign of progress given the economic ravine the nation has been climbing out of the last 3-1/2 years. The results also argued for staying the course with the president’s policies, he said:
“While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It is critical that we continue the policies that build an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007.”
Krueger steered away from a blatantly political message, leaving that to the Obama re-election campaign, which obliged.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt took the opportunity of the jobs report to deliver the campaign’s message of recent days, that Romney’s economic plan would raise taxes for the middle class while reducing them for the superwealthy. In a statement, he said:
“There have now been 29 months of consecutive private sector job growth and we could do more today to create jobs if Mitt Romney and Republicans in Congress stopped obstructing the President’s jobs plan to create one million jobs now and took immediate action to ensure taxes on middle class families don’t go up. Governor Romney’s plan for the middle class is nothing but a tax hike he would use to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires like himself – costing the average middle class family with children $2,000 a year.”