When Will Job Growth Help the Democrats?

The good news probably won't matter in the midterms.
The economy added 209,000 jobs in July.

Another first Friday of the month, another solid jobs report. July was the sixth consecutive month with 200,000 or more jobs added, a record last achieved during the Clinton administration. We shouldn't overstate it: Healthy job growth from a depressed initial state is good, but it's hardly the same thing as healthy job growth on top of high employment rates. Still, is there some point at which this should start helping President Barack Obama?

It's hard to tell. But as I said last month that there's no reason to expect any sharp reaction that might bail out Democrats in November. The historical record, at a glance, seems pretty mixed. On the one hand, Ronald Reagan's political fortunes recovered fairly rapidly in 1983 and 1984, when good times returned. On the other, a recession that had technically ended not only cost George H.W. Bush his presidency, but contributed to Bill Clinton's miserable first two years and the Republican landslide of 1994 (helped, too, by Clinton's inept transition and initial management of the office, but good economic news would have alleviated the effects of his missteps). As Seth Masket wrote recently, it took a long time for Americans to be convinced that prosperity had arrived in the 1990s. We're a long way from matching that kind of economic performance now (or the way the economy roared back when the Reagan recovery replaced the Reagan recession). As it is, today's Kaiser health survey, for example, still finds "jobs and the economy" close to to the top of the list of what people think Congress should be spending time on.

The economy isn't the only thing that could help or hurt Obama's approval ratings; turmoil abroad may be responsible for his (mild so far) slump in recent months. Even so, my guess would be that if the run of good economic news continues, we're not too many months away from starting to see some effects on Obama's popularity, with a real possibility that the economy could be a solid plus for the Democrats in 2016.

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    To contact the author on this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor on this story:
    Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

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