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May 02, 2014 1:20 PM Good Jobs Report Won’t Matter in November

By Jonathan Bernstein

Does the strong jobs report released today signal anything major for the midterm elections in November? It’s unlikely.

The best case one might make for a positive effect for the Democrats would be this: There’s probably something of a gap between impressions of the economy and the raw numbers, and it’s possible that there’s some tipping point that change those impressions. People still are down about the economy. In March, for example, 57 percent of respondents told an NBC poll that the U.S. was in a recession; the Gallup economic confidence index remains in negative territory. It’s possible those indicators could flip rapidly if there’s an emerging consensus that good times have returned. In that case, the president’s popularity could rise, helping the Democrats.

Yet even if that happens, it’s hard to see it helping much. When Ronald Reagan’s approval turned around in 1983, for example, his strong rally still didn’t much exceed one percentage point of approval a month. And that occurred as the economy moved from a deep recession to a solid recovery, a different set of circumstances from the mild improvements that might be happening now. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is around 44 percent. A return to 50 percent by election day is a best-case scenario, and even that wouldn’t cause a dramatic tilt in the electoral playing field. Given how closely contested Senate control appears to be, a small nudge could be very important - but it’s a small nudge, nevertheless.

A far more realistic outcome is that good economic news just keeps Obama on the very mild upward path he’s been on since the Affordable Care Act exchanges were fixed. The biggest thing that we can say is that the jobs report showing the jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent in April makes it increasingly unlikely that Obama’s popularity will be much dented by the economy before the November elections.

Which isn’t nothing! As I’ve said, events over the course of this year offer more downside risk than upside potential. The good news for the Democrats is that one of the known sources of risk, the Obamacare signups during open enrollment, turned out fine. Another dangerous area, the economy, also appears to be neutralized for the moment. But even if the president can avoid any of the downside risks, he’s still not going to be a lift to Democratic prospects in November.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

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