Saturday, July 9, 2011

How do the June job numbers affect Obama’s chance for re-election?

If the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ count is right (and there may be a question about that, see my previous post), how do the poor job creation numbers for June impact Obama’s chance of being re-elected?  Answer: Not much.  Plus, the most reliable presidential election forecasting model still gives the nod to Obama.

Why don’t the June job numbers matter that much?  As it turns out that, by itself, the unemployment rate is NOT a very good predictor of an incumbent President’s chances of being re-elected.  Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight took ran some correlations between the unemployment rate and the margin of victory of the incumbent party in presidential elections.  Result?  There was very little if any correlation.  The unemployment rate alone is not a great predictor of the election outcome.  See the following two charts showing Silver’s calculations:

Silver concludes that there are a number of factors at work that make the unemployment rate a poor predictor of the presidential election outcome:

The problem is that whatever signal there is gets filtered through an awful lot of noise. Consider:

  • The unemployment rate itself is subject to fairly significant measurement error.
  • Voters will interpret the unemployment rate in different ways, and assign the president varying amounts of credit or blame for it.
  • The unemployment rate is but one of a number of salient economic indicators.
  • Economic performance is but one of the ways that voters evaluate a president.
  • Voters’ evaluation of a president is important, but they also consider the strength of a president’s opponents, including third-party alternatives in some elections.

So, can Obama and his supporters just ignore unemployment?  That wouldn’t be smart.  The status of the economy, including jobs, are a factor.  It is just they are ONE factor among many.


I’ve written before that one of the best forecasting models for presidential elections is the Keys to the White House model.  The Keys forecast is based upon 13 items or keys as follows:

Predictions are based on an index comprised of the number of false or negative keys: When five or fewer keys are false, the incumbent party wins; when any six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

The Keys formula for the actual winning margin is:

V = 36.6 + 1.8L 
V = the percentage of the two-party split going to the incumbent
L = the number of Keys favoring the incumbent party

Right now the Keys Model predicts that Obama will win re-election with 55% of the popular vote.

Note, however, that seven of the 13 keys cannot change and/or are very unlikely to change.  Six keys are in play.

Remember the Keys Rule:  When five or fewer keys are false, the incumbent party wins; when any six or more are false, the challenging party wins.

That means that at least THREE of the SIX Keys in play have to switch from TRUE to FALSE for Obama to lose.  That is possible but not likely.

Three of these are very unlikely to change:

(2) Contest-There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. [It is very unlikely that anyone will seriously challenge Obama for the Democratic Party nomination.]

(4) Third Party-There is no significant third party or independent campaign. [It is very unlikely that we will see a progressive/liberal alternative to the Democratic Party mount a significant campaign.]

(9) Scandal—The incumbent administration is untainted by a major scandal. [Obama’s administration has been largely scandal-free.  That’s not likely to change.]

Three keys could change:

(5) Short-term Economy—The economy is not in a recession during the election campaign. [We could slip back into a recession between now and next year depending upon how the debt ceiling talks work out.]

(10) Foreign/military failure—The incumbent administration suffers no major failure in foreign or military affairs. [A terrorist attack on American soil or on American troops is possible as is some major foreign policy disaster in the mid-East.]

(13) Challenger charisma—The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero. [It doesn’t look like the Republicans will nominate a national hero on the order of Eisenhower.  Palin and/or Bachmann are charismatic figures to the extreme Right/Tea Party.  Romney doesn’t appear very charismatic and it is unlikely that a serious candidate for the Republican nomination that is not already in the running will emerge, simply because it is getting too late for a new candidate to raise enough money and get organized to run an effective campaign.  September is probably the outside.]

BOTTOM LINE: In spite of the bad jobs numbers for June, Obama still has a very good chance of being re-elected.

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