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Comparing Reagan and Obama on Approval and Unemployment

The American right loves comparing President Obama to former President Carter as if that alone is enough to ensure he is a one term president. What the right has apparently not noticed or not wanted to admit is how close President Obama and President Reagan line up as far as approval and the economic situation in the US goes.

Obama's approval rating has mirrored Reagan's from the beginning. It was sad watching folks like Sean Hannity spin Obama's dropping approval as something bad while ignoring how their Saint Reagan was doing after a similar amount of time. In fact, Obama has had better approval several times in his first term due to a series of bounces in the polls.

What the right doesn't want to think about apparently is how similar the economic situation was. Both presidents came in with unemployment rising to painful levels. Both saw it remaining high for most of their first terms. Both saw the economy move from recession to recovery.

Just as with Obama today, that level of unemployment was a potential anchor on Reagan's re-election campaign. Things went the right way for President Reagan though. As he went into his election year the economic recovery really took hold. Unemployment went from the peak of 10.8% in 1981 to 7.2% on election day in 1984. The rest for Reagan was history.

Will Obama get a similar boost from the recovery in the next 12 months? Maybe. Maybe not. For Obama the unemployment rate peaked late in 2009 and hasn't declined sharply like it did for Reagan starting late in 1982. The average job creation per month for 1983 was 294,000. For Obama that number has been 126,000 this year. It will have to get a lot better than that.

I think just about everyone looking at this campaign believes it will turn on the state of the economy. In the next 12 months if things head in the right direction we could see Obama win re-election. If things continue moving sideways more than upward as it has this year then it may not work out for Obama.

What is interesting to note is that 7.2% is not that great for Reagan. It was just a heck of a lot better than 10.8%. For Obama to succeed economically the trend will need to be going in the right direction. A sharp decline for Obama is probably out of the question but if unemployment somehow touches the area of 7.9% or below before the election that could be significant for him.

Obama has seen a lot of job creation over the last 20 months but he'll need to see a lot more to be able to tout it the way he needs. It helps Obama that the GOP seems to want to nominate a clown to face off against him next November. A Toxic candidate and an economy clearly in recovery could be just what he needs. It will be a while before we get a better sense what next year is going to look like economically and politically.

Posted by Adam Ducker at November 6, 2011 11:21 PM
Comments
Comment #331623

There is a big difference between 7% then and now.

During the 1980s, we (the American people) had been used to unemployment of 8-10%. We had come through the horrible 1970s, when the economy was rotten. Young adults, as I was at the time, really couldn’t remember low unemployment. The Reagan recovery was better than anything in our experience.


People today remember unemployment under 5%. This was only a few years ago. Our “anchor number” is around 5%, which we consider okay. Reagan got us “down” to around 7%. Obama is getting us “up”. It is not “fair” but true.

Besides, it is very unlikely that we will get down to 7% before November. Obama will have a higher unemployment rate in November 2012 than he did in November 2008. You can say it is not his fault, but it will look bad.

One more thing - Reagan unemployment spiked higher and then went down a lot faster. Reagan job creation was just much better than Obama’s.

I am not sure a Republican can win. I depends. Obama has messed up a lot and he is unpopular, but somebody still has to beat him. Democratic hope lies not in Obama being good, but in their ability to make Republican look bad. Obama has piles of money to do this. Let’s see.

Posted by: C&J at November 7, 2011 5:03 AM
Comment #331625

“There is a big difference between 7% then and now.”

I agree a little but your memory of the 70’s is off a bit. The average for the 1970’s was 6.2% unemployment. It was 8% or above only in 1975 and reached a high of 9% only one month in that year.

“Besides, it is very unlikely that we will get down to 7% before November.”

Low 8% range is probably all Obama can hope for and even that is pushing it. But I honestly think if it even touches the 7% range that Obama wins easily.

“Obama will have a higher unemployment rate in November 2012 than he did in November 2008.”

This is true for November but counting time in office the difference is not that dramatic. Reagan had 7.2% in November 1984 compared to 7.5% in 1980 but he had 7.5% the month he took office and was back to 7.2% by the election. Obama had 6.8% in November but 7.8% by the time he took office. I think Obama can get close enough to his starting point in the same way Reagan did.

“Obama has messed up a lot and he is unpopular, but somebody still has to beat him.”

Obama is not that unpopular. What he will be working on the next 12 months is the message that things are better now than when he started and they’d be even better if not for Republican obstruction of the American Jobs Act. He’ll argue the GOP created this mess, and obstructed him from turning it around quicker and pose the question of whether we’re really ready to return to GOP rule yet.

Posted by: Adam Ducker at November 7, 2011 9:18 AM
Comment #331630

Adam

I don’t doubt my memory for some of the details is off a bit, but I do recall being relieved at 7%.

I think that some of my generation’s love for Reagan (at least the nearly 60% of us who voted for him in 1984), comes form the way he restored hope after what looked like a very long night. It was really morning in America.

Obama will never be able to do this. He does not have the sunny personality that Reagan projected. If he does manage to get reelected, it sure won’t be with the landslide Reagan won.

Re Obama’s time in office and the economy - you are right, but this is not how people count. This is not fair to Obama, but, like GW Bush, he came in on a downswing and will be remembered as such.

I do blame Obama for raising expectations too high. He front end loaded both the recovery and his taking credit. He is a lot like American - in debt.

Re Obama popularity - he is in the toilet. But I agree that he can win with a combination of two things. Using the big piles of money he already has in the bank, plus the generally sympathetic media, he can rebuilt his popularity plus trash his opponent. He will do both. It is actually a plus the Republicans do not have a front runner. Obama surrogates have already trashed Perry and Cain. It was probably a waste of their money and effort.

IMO - Obama has at least 50% chance of being reelected. It will be a close election. I know you disagree, but I think a second Obama term will be terrible. W/o the fear of the electorate, he will go way to the left. It will almost certainly ensure a Republican victory in 2016, but at great cost to our country. Even worse, it will probably be a more conservative Republican in reaction to the Obama lurch left.

Best for our country is Mitt Romney. Democrats claim he is too moderate for the Republicans to nominate, which means they think he is moderate. And he is. He is also the smartest guy that has run for a long time and the one with the most practical experience. His downside as a candidate is that he is boring and pragmatic. This will be an upside as president.

IMO - Obama likes to campaign more than he likes to govern. Romney has the opposite “problem”.

In any case, I will support almost any Republican over Obama. In the interests of party unity, I won’t reveal which would be deal breakers, but it won’t happen anyway.

Posted by: C&J at November 7, 2011 1:41 PM
Comment #331633
Best for our country is Mitt Romney.

Governor Romney was very good. Candidate Romney isn’t that good. I dunno if President Romney would be more like Governor Romney or Candidate Romney.

Posted by: Warped Reality at November 7, 2011 2:20 PM
Comment #331634

“If he does manage to get reelected, it sure won’t be with the landslide Reagan won.”

I was just thinking about this last night. I agree. I simply doubt we’ll ever see a landslide Reagan style again in this political climate including Obama. That Obama won by the margin he did is something special. I expect a lot of 2% and 4% victories from our next few presidents.

“Re Obama popularity - he is in the toilet.”

President Bush’s approval was in the toilet. That you think Obama is in the toilet when just 50% of Americas disapprove says a lot about your standards for success and failure in job approval.

“W/o the fear of the electorate, he will go way to the left.”

This only matters if Democrats control Congress which they most likely won’t even given the best case which is Democrats strengthen control in the Senate and carve away some of the GOP House majority. But then again if Obama succeeds in projecting the GOP has holding back the recovery as he clearly wants then it could get ugly again for the GOP. That is pretty unlikely though I’d say.

“IMO - Obama likes to campaign more than he likes to govern.”

I think that’s an unfair claim but he is very good at campaigning so it’s hard to say what he likes more. Still, it’s not one or the other. The President isn’t like a governor or a member of Congress. He’s allowed to hit the campaign trail, get in a round of golf, shoot hoops with some friends, hang out with his water dog, etc., without interfering with or slowing down the day to day operation of the Executive Branch and the country. His day starts very early and ends very late and there’s a whole lot of stuff going on in between.

Posted by: Adam Ducker at November 7, 2011 2:27 PM
Comment #331635

Adam

I think Obama is kind of lazy when it comes to the work of the presidency. He takes more vacations than Bush, who was criticized for it. And he never even stopped campaigning. “President Obama has attended twice the number of fundraisers as his predecessor and has made nearly three times the trips to key battleground states this year.” according to LA Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-obama-bush-fundraising-20111107,0,922221.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fmostviewed+%28L.A.+Times+-+Most+Viewed+Stories%29&utm_content=Google+Feedfetcher

SO whatever anybody said about Bush vacations and campaigning literally goes double for Obama. So does debt, BTW.

Posted by: C&J at November 7, 2011 3:52 PM
Comment #331637

“He takes more vacations than Bush, who was criticized for it.”

That doesn’t seem true unless you’re counting something else as vacation time along with traditional vacation. But even then you’d need to count that for Bush and it would go up even more. Obama still hasn’t come close to vacation masters Bush or Reagan. I doubt he will.

As far as campaign events go I think that’s a fair criticism but one few people really care about. Most of this criticism comes from Republicans who would prefer Obama not use his bully pulpit to get his message to voters.

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