Today’s jobs report was a very good one: 288,000 new jobs were created in June, and the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest it has been since September 2008, just before the crash. Furthermore, we’ve now had five consecutive months with more than 200,000 jobs added, which hasn’t happened since 1999-2000. So will Barack Obama get the credit?
Probably not. First of all, we shouldn’t get too excited; there are still a lot of people looking for work, there are a lot who have gotten discouraged and dropped out of the labor force, and there are a lot working part time when they’d rather have full-time jobs. But even if everyone is in agreement that things are looking up, the president can expect to get partial credit, at best.
Obama’s economic ratings have never been very high, at least since the initial honeymoon of his election wore off. In fact, they’ve hovered around 40 percent for most of his presidency, as this chart aggregating results from a variety of surveys (courtesy of Huffpost Pollster) shows:
The most important reason for this is, of course, the simple reality that the economy hasn’t been that great in the past six years; even when there have been a couple of good months in a row, the hole the country has been trying to climb out of was so deep that no one could honestly say things were going splendidly. But there’s a partisan element too, in that ratings of the president have become much more clearly predictable by party in the last decade or so. If you look at the polarization of Gallup approval ratings — the difference between how Democrats rate the president and how Republicans rate him — you see that 10 of the 12 most polarized years ever came in the presidencies of Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
That means that no matter how good the economy gets, only a tiny number of Republicans will ever say that Obama is doing a good job on the economy. Just as Democrats tend to do under a Republican president, if things go badly they’ll say it was his fault, but if things go well they’ll say he had nothing to do with it. That will put a ceiling on how high his economic ratings can rise.
Even with five months of good job growth, Americans aren’t yet convinced that the economy is humming. But what if four months from now — just before the midterm election — we’ve had nine months of solid growth? If that were to happen, it would almost certainly show up in President Obama’s approval ratings, as the good news disseminates through the media and people see the effects in their own lives and communities. But it might not make much of a difference in the midterm elections, which are far less affected by the economy than presidential elections.
In other words, President Obama and Democrats can take heart in the economic news — but not too much.