The New York Times has an article today about the different ways that the GOP and Democrats are spinning the latest unemployment figures. Government figures show unemployment at 8.6%, down from 9% a month ago. Predictably, the Democrats are spinning this as a positive: the economy is getting better, which will likely benefit President Obama in 2012. Also predictably, the Republicans are spinning this as a negative: even though unemployment is getting relatively better, it is still objectively very high, which will likely hurt President Obama in 2012.
Political science research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that the fortunes of incumbent presidential candidates are linked to not to the objective state of the economy, but the relative rate at which the economy is getting better or worse during an election year and throughout the presidential term. Should the economy continue to experience relative improvement, this is good for President Obama’s reelection prospects.
However, political science research also strongly suggests that the current rate of economic recovery is too slow to positively affect an incumbent’s reelection chances. It needs to be recovering much faster/bigger/better before this can be interpreted as very good news for President Obama’s reelection prospects. (One model suggests that economic growth rate needs to be about 4% in 2012 before Obama can feel comfortable. We’re not near 4% yet.)
In other words, the spin coming from the Democrats on the unemployment figures is generally more accurate than the spin from the Republicans. However, they (Democrats) are also painting an overly-optimistic picture at this point.