Graph of the Day

With the buzz about the AJA, whispers of double-dip, and November 2012 breathing down Washington’s neck, the ever-recurring question of jobs and re-election surfaces again.  The Headline Team decided to sift through some historical data on that very subject.  Here’s what we found:

We compared the margin by which incumbents running for re-election either won or lost (this percent margin refers to the popular vote, and the percentage is by how much they defeated or were defeated by their opponent).  Then, we looked at the unemployment rate just before election (October of election year):

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and uselectionatlas.org. Click to enlarge

The graph shows only weak correlation between the unemployment rate and the win/loss margin, with Reagan handily taking 1984 with an unemployment rate similar to those when Bush and Carter were ousted.

Perhaps what voters look for, though, is not necessarily a low unemployment rate, but rather a decreasing unemployment rate.  This time, we’ll look at the change in the unemployment rate in election year (i.e. the % change in unemployment from January to October of election year):

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and uselectionatlas.org. Click to enlarge

This time, the correlation is stronger.  The unemployment rate decreased during every election year for all five incumbents who won re-election.  For Bush (1992) and Carter (1980), the unemployment rate remained flat or increased.

Now, let’s briefly look at economic activity:

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and uselectionatlas.org. Click to enlarge

The % GDP Change is based on the change in GDP in the election year compared to the previous year (in chained 2005 dollars).  We can see that there is a significant correlation between a growing economy and a re-elected incumbent.

In short, what voters want to see is improvement.  A president presiding over a growing economy and a falling unemployment rate is more than likely to see a second term.

Of course, the question now becomes: How much control does the President actually have over these issues?  It’s an important question, particularly to President Obama.

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