It’s (still) the economy, stupid – in 5 numbers

February 12, 2013

When President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress in tonight's State of the Union address, his main focus will be the economy.

It’s easy to see why.

(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama’s emphasis on immigration and gay rights in his second inaugural address last month drew new attention to each issue. But, after a bit of a messaging hiatus on the economy, it's clear the President needs to come back to it tonight since it is the single issue that galvanized large majorities of Americans.

Here's that story -- told in 5 stats.

* 7.9 percent: The nation’s unemployment rate stands at nearly 8 percent, the latest monthly jobs report showed. Yes, that’s substantially better than 2010, when it consistently neared 10 percent. But, it’s far from ideal. The monthly jobs report received a lot more attention during the 2012 campaign when both parties tried to use it to gain an advantage. But, even though it's no longer being dissected in the political arena to the extent it was last fall, it's still a important metric -- and one against which Obama's record will be judged for the next four years.

* 3: The three most frequently cited “top” priorities for Obama and Congress in a recent Pew Research Center survey were strengthening the economy, improving the job situation, and reducing the budget deficit. Climate change, guns, and immigration weren’t identified as top priorities with nearly as much frequency as the leading economic issues.

* 35 percent: A plurality of voters said they are most interested in hearing Obama discuss the economy in his State of the Union, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday. For the President, it would be difficult to justify not talking at length about the issue most Americans are interested in hearing about.

* 6 percentage points: By a 47-41 percent margin in the Quinnipiac poll, voters said they trust Obama more than congressional Republicans to handle the economy. If Obama keeps up his political advantage over the GOP on the issue, it could lend him some leverage in upcoming fiscal debates. And if he wants to maintain the public opinion high ground he currently has over GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, Obama will need to communicate to voters that he is making a full-court press on the economy.

* 59 percent: Nearly six in ten voters said the economy was the top issue facing the country when they cast their votes last November, exit poll data show. Mitt Romney took 51 percent of those voters, while Obama took 47 percent. The president won reelection, but not because Americans felt great about the economy under his watch; Obama convinced voters the country was headed in the right direction. It’s an argument Democrats will have to make again in the upcoming midterm elections, which are now less than two years away.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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