Deeply ingrained in most electoral handicapping this season is the assumption that high unemployment and a sub-50-percent approval rating should be enough to unseat an incumbent president. Data from previous elections tell us this. Our gut tells us this. President Obama should be losing, right?
And yet, after a post-primary honeymoon bounce for Romney, polling matchups have remained relatively stable, with Obama holding a roughly three-point lead over the last couple months. We (at any rate, I) keep waiting for all this depressing news to tilt the election in Romney’s favor, but the dynamic of the race refuses to budge.
After the latest dismal jobs report, Steve Clement of the Washington Post observed:
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.
Is it possible that the electorate is firmly dug in on one side or the other? That a slight majority has absorbed the reality of a slow recovery but will opt to reelect Obama anyway? (Such persuadable voters as do exist have thus far been persuaded more by Team Obama than Team Romney.)
The conventional wisdom will no doubt persist. I cling to it myself.
As Clement speculates:
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 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.
This still sounds right to me.
Yet it seems at least within the realm of possibility that, after this election, we might need to rewrite the conventional wisdom.