Unemployment rate might not hurt Obama in election

Last modified: 1/8/2012 12:00:00 AM
Unemployment is higher than it's been going into any election year since World War II.

But history shows that won't necessarily stop President Obama from reclaiming the White House.

In a presidential election year, the unemployment trend can be more important to an incumbent's chances than the unemployment rate.

Going back to 1956, no incumbent president has lost when unemployment fell over the two years leading up to the election. And none has won when it rose.

The picture is similar in the 12 months before presidential elections: Only one of nine incumbent presidents (Gerald Ford in 1976) lost when unemployment fell over that year, and only one (Dwight Eisenhower in 1956) was re-elected when it rose.

Those precedents bode well for Obama. Unemployment was 9.8 percent in November 2010, two years before voters decide whether Obama gets to stay in the White House. It was down to 8.7 percent in November 2011, a year before the vote. It fell to 8.5 percent in December and is expected to fall further by Election Day.

Even so, the unemployment rate is still at recession levels. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is contending with other Republican candidates to challenge Obama in November, has made the weak economy the centerpiece of his campaign.

Obama can take comfort in President Ronald Reagan's experience. In November 1982, the economy was in the last month of a deep recession, and unemployment was 10.8 percent, the highest since the Great Depression.




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