The U.S. economy added 288,000 jobs in June. That won't mean much to voters.

Sunny Jobs Report Won't Save Democrats

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Democrats should be happy about the excellent jobs report released today showing that the unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in June. They shouldn’t, however, expect it to have any major effect on the 2014 elections.

Here’s how it works: The president’s popularity probably has a direct effect on midterms. As it stands now, it would be a minor drag on Democrats; HuffPollster has President Barack Obama at just under 44 percent approval and holding steady. The more sensitive “less smoothing” estimate is at 42.4 percent, and has been falling since the beginning of May. That’s a bit better than where President George W. Bush stood in 2006, but isn't remotely close to the strong approval President Bill Clinton had in 1998, when Democrats did well in a second-term midterm.

What I said when Obama’s approval was rising earlier in the year remains true: there’s more downside risk than upside opportunity. The best Obama could probably hope for would be for Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and especially Iraq, to recede to the inside pages of newspapers, and for the economy to produce a steady stream of positive stories. Four months of that news environment might -– might -– get the president into the high 40s in approval. That wouldn't change things in any major way.

On the other hand, significant bad news from abroad, on the economy, or a new scandal could be a bigger hit for Obama, dropping him solidly below 40 percent, and making a Republican takeover of the Senate very likely.

So a solid jobs report, and even better a pretty good string of reports, makes it very unlikely that there will be a major hit to the economy between now and Election Day. But the midterms are still being contested in what should be, at best, a mediocre year for Democrats, and (as far as the Senate is concerned) on very promising terrain for Republicans. There’s nothing on the horizon that would change either of those basic facts.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Jonathan Bernstein at

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