Even before the current presidential election cycle began, the conventional wisdom was that the 2012 race to the White House would boil down to one issue and one issue only: the economy. The consensus among the political class all along has been that President Obama’s reelection would depend on convincing enough voters that the American economy, in the midst of one of the slowest recoveries in history, has finally turned the corner.
And on that all-important issue, the US president may have, at long last, crossed the reelection threshold. The official monthly jobs report, released on October 5, revealed that for the first time under the Obama presidency, the nation’s unemployment rate has gone below 8%.
The jobless rate in September was 7.8%, 0.3 percentage point below the August mark, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, an agency within the Department of Labour that keeps track of the employment figures.
The figure 7.8% is important because that was the unemployment rate in the United States when Obama took office in January 2009. Bringing it down to that level has been one of his campaign’s stated goals. It also advances a key White House argument that the administration’s policies — such as the bailout of the US auto industry and pumping of hundreds billions of dollars into the economy through stimulus packages — are working and a change of guard at this stage would have a disastrous effect on the economy that is now back on the growth track.
Obama was quick to remind the voters the same the day the report came out. “It is a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now,” he told voters at a campaign stop in the swing state of Virginia.
The report is also significant for the president from a historical perspective. In the post-Great Depression era, no president has ever been reelected with unemployment rate hovering above 8%.
Among the many economic indicators, the job market has been one of the few areas that have been underperforming since the current recovery began. The consistently high jobless rate so far during the recovery had economists dubbing it as a “jobless recovery”. The US stock market, on the other hand, has performed remarkably well during the Obama presidency. “Since Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009, all three major US stock indexes are up more than 60%,” according to CNBC. “The Nasdaq Composite alone has soared a whopping 105%.”
In the short run, the jobs report provided the president’s campaign a much-needed boost the day after his widely panned debate performance. The debate had given Mitt Romney a lifeline and led to a tightening of the race in polls across the nation.
Peggy Hackney, an analyst with New York University, has examined the body language of Barack Obama & Mitt Romney in speeches and debates. Here’s are some signature gestures that they use.
The job report’s impact on the election process was also evident immediately. A number of Republicans, led by luminaries such as former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, questioned whether the unemployment data was tampered to benefit the president’s campaign. It also forced Romney to alter one of his favourite stump speech attack lines — that Obama has presided over 8% unemployment rate for 43 straight months.
The debate and the jobs report demonstrate the fluidity of this election. The race to the White House is a marathon not a sprint. The winner needs to have done the proper preparation, staying power, and the tenacity to deal with adversity when it comes along.