The new GDP numbers are terrible. Here’s why President Obama isn’t that worried about them.

The economy contracted dramatically in the first quarter of 2014, according to re-revised data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The federal department's initial assessment of Q1 2014 was that the nation's economic activity had expanded slightly. After getting more data, it revised that estimate to a 1 percent contraction. The third estimate, however, is much more severe: the economy contracted 2.9 percent.

But this probably won't cause President Obama to lose too much sleep.


(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Wonkblog's Yian Mui walked through the qualifiers on the number: "It was really cold during the winter. Hiring picked up dramatically as spring grew closer. Most economists say the rebound has already begun, and the big drop in the first quarter may just have fueled pent-up demand that is fueling the pickup this quarter."

The numbers are bad, in other words, but there's reason to think that the worst has passed. Mui quotes Jim Sullivan of High Frequency Economics: "In short, GDP was recession-like in Q1, although most other data clearly signal that the decline is an outlier."

The markets don't seem to be particularly concerned either. As of writing, the Dow Jones industrials, Nasdaq and Standard and Poor's 500 are all up for the day, after dipping earlier this morning. If the markets aren't worried and if economists think that the number is an aberration, temperatures in Washington aren't likely to increase too much.

But the real reason Obama in particular probably isn't concerned is that there isn't any apparent link between GDP data and presidential approval.


This one comes with a lot of caveats, too. But the biggest drivers of approval tend to be political. The attacks of 9/11 did more for Bush's approval than the big spike in GDP that year. The increase in approval at the beginning of 2009 was about the new president, not the stumbling economy.

However. In 2012, Gallup found that Obama's presidential approval was linked to America's economic confidence. That link has grown weaker since, but it's clear that the president is judged against the economic strength of the country. That said, economic confidence isn't driven directly by a percentage change in the GDP; it's driven by a much looser set of perceptions that drive response to questions about how people think the economy is doing.

If the first quarter of this year had a dramatic effect on Americans, it's not reflected in their expressions of confidence to Gallup over that time period. Below: The figure tracked between December and June.


From Gallup.

While the GDP was plunging, America's economic confidence stayed flat. If the country wasn't particularly worried about the economy as growth dropped, it doesn't seem likely that Obama will be inclined to worry too much about it either.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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