Jobs report unlikely to change election dynamic
RESOLVED: Friday’s jobs report is unlikely to shift the dynamics of the race for the White House.
The race between President Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has been remarkably immune to influence from outside events with only the biggest of news — the killing of Osama bin Laden, for one — able to shift the dynamic even for a short period of time.
Take last month’s unemployment report (published June 1), which showed the worst rate of job creation since June 2011. That’s exactly the kind of report that should change the dynamic. But, in the wake of the May jobs report, President Obama's economic job approval rating hardly moved at all, neither did his support in a contest with Romney.
After the May report's release, Obama's approval rating on the economy dropped by two points in the AP-GfK poll and one point in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, was steady in Fox News and American Research Group polls. None of these changes was statistically significant. (Note: Because of differences in how polls are conducted, it's best to examine month-to-month change for polls from the same source.)
Obama’s standing in a head-to-head matchup against Romney was also not affected by the May report. His support dropped 3-4 points in Reuters-Ipsos, AP-GfK and Fox polling, was identical in CNN surveys and went up 1-2 points in Pew, NBC/WSJ, and Gallup surveys. Again, none of these individual changes reached statistical significance and the opposing direction of different polls hints that most of the movement is statistical noise.
Why do the jobs report have seemingly so little impact on the overall dynamic of the presidential race?
One reason is that not everyone is refreshing the Bureau of Labor Statistics page. Gallup found just 22 percent followed news about June's unemployment report “very closely” in a survey conducted three days after it was released. Only 55 percent followed it even “somewhat closely,” which is below the 60 percent average across 200 other news stories Gallup has tracked in the past two decades.
Second, not everyone interprets the report in the same way, and many partisan see their own “facts” in the jobs numbers. Fully 57 percent of Republicans described the May jobs report as “negative,” but only 45 percent of independents and 28 percent of Democrats said the same. Democrats were much more likely to say the news was “mixed”, though 15 percent described the reading as positive. Notably, respondents who followed news about the report closely were 20 points more likely to see it as negative.
Third, it's just one month. The unemployment rate may be the most important economic and political indicator right now, but it’s hard for a single report to reverberate through the electorate. In late 2011, it took several months of improving economic news to bring Obama's economic approval rating above the 40 percent mark.
While it may be difficult for a single report to move the political needle, today’s jobs report showing sub-100,000 job growth for the third consecutive month could could confirm that the economy is in bad shape and soften hopes for a recovery. Even before the previous report was released, the number of Americans hearing “mostly bad news” about the economy was on the rise in Pew polls, from 24 percent in March to 37 percent in May. A steady increase in that number spells bad news for the president.