Friday, July 6, 2012

Jobs Report Blues

Well, that stinks. It's always worth remembering that it's not just the politics of the thing; we're talking about lots of damage to lots of people.

But you don't come here to read that; you want to know the politics. Specifically, the electoral politics. That's easy: it's bad news for Barack Obama, but easily overhyped. Think of it in two ways. First, we're talking about what's going to drive news coverage of the economy until something else does; his is certainly going to yield more stories of economic misery and fewer of good times. And, second, it contributes to a prediction of what's about to happen (or is happening now) in the economy. As such, it's not exactly the most useful information, but it's something.

At any about a little completely off-the-wall speculation about the effects of the jobs number during the current cycle compared with the past?

I have two -- and again, this is totally speculative. One is that it could have a greater effect than it has historically. Why? Because the press is so focused on these monthly reports. I'm not really certain about this -- there's certainly more attention than there was during good times, but you would have to go back to the Reagan recession to really get a good comp. I do have the sense, however, that there's a bit more pack journalism focused on the jobs numbers now, which (if true) would tend to make that report even more the driver of press impressions of the economy.

And the second one is that it will have less effect than it has historically. That one is a story about the partisan press. It's certainly true that the partisan press is a much larger portion of US news consumption these days. To the extent that the partisan press strongly slants economic news, then perhaps the actual facts about the economy become increasingly disconnected to how it's presented on (for example) Fox News. I do know there are some numbers out there for partisan perceptions of the economy, but I'm not sure what the evidence is for how it's changed over time.

Again, that's just speculation. What we do know is that a lousy economy isn't going to be good for the incumbent. Push Mitt Romney's chances up a little, and Barack Obama's down a bit.


  1. My reasoning for why the campaign effects are overhyped is this: If the jobs numbers for August (released the first Friday of September) and September (released the first Friday of October) are strong, voters aren't likely to care what the early-summer numbers were. And if August and September are weak, having strong early-summer numbers wouldn't have mattered anyway.

    1. There is also the fact that these numbers came out on 6 July, which is to say when a lot of folks were coasting from the Fourth to the weekend and paying even less attention than usual to the news. So, if you are one looking for straws to clutch, there is that one. These particular numbers may have relatively little Impact only because they will be old news by the time most people tune back in. And it is true that if the next three or four jobs reports come in strong, then by 7 November no one will be basing a vote on weak-but-unsurprising numbers in July. The great danger, and the reason I think that Obama is in deep peril along with his accomplishments, is that this is yet another piece of evidence that the economy is grinding down and by November may well resemble an old man with emphysema and a bad heart - that is slow, wheezing, barely able to move forward, in no immediate danger of collapse but no one's idea of health and vitality.


    1. Obviously a parody --- Romney wouldn't employ a black woman.

  3. Yes, the numbers do certainly stink, although they thankfully fall short of the kind of catastrophes we've seen at times the last couple of years. I guess the question is where does that leave the race? Mr. Bernstein earlier this weak talked about the potential for mixed news to leave the race at basically a toss-up with slight advantage to Obama. I'm not sure this qualifies as mixed, although it really doesn't qualify as a great shock, either. Nate Silver seems unsure as well, although his model tends to show Obama in pretty good shape at the moment. My own feel is that Obama is in deep trouble, and yes, ACA and all the rest with him. Although, as SCOTUS reminded me last week, I might as well try to see through X-ray shielding as see the future.

    Now, the question then arises, quite fairly, of what Obama could have done differently. As far as his present campaign I just don't know -- I have no skills in the managing of the day-to-day decisions of a political campaign. Looking to earlier in his administration, I think it would have helped if he and his team had grasped certain basic facts sooner, namely the depth of the economic problems and the kind of opposition they had in the GOP. I know that it is easy to criticize, and easy to ignore all sorts of factors on the ground at the time. I certainly don't want to go the route of a Bill Galston or a Matt Dickinson and complain and criticize and (in Galston's case) whine incessantly about basic questions of political strategy or policy preferences (such whining and complaining and criticizing essentially being a public pining for a different kind of Democratic coalition). But waiting around for Olympia Snowe? Really? Thinking you could actually get a debt deal with the House GOP? Really? Dismissing the possibilities of GOP lawsuits with regard to the ACA? Really (yes, I know they actually were proven right about that one, by the grace of John Roberts)? Waiting until 2014 for the benefits of the ACA to kick in, giving the GOP plentiful leeway to meddle with no political penalty? Really? Now thinking that, against all odds, they can actually get the American voter to consider complex issues of comparative policy? Really?

    Although I can't say that the Obama administration speaks for me, over all I approve of their policies more often than not -- at least to the "lesser of two evils" level. But when I look at the expectations they had of the economy and the GOP, I wonder if the FAA couldn't decrease traffic congestion but plotting new flight paths between certain sets of ears.

    Oh, and I freely admit to being a hypocrite in criticizing other people for complaining and then complaining myself. As we are discussing politics, and as politics has no definition of hypocrite that applies, I claim benefit of genre.


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