How Presidents Win When Jobless Rate Is High

Voters care about change in unemployment rate
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 7, 2012 5:03 PM CST

(Newser) – Will next year's election depend on "the economy, stupid"? History shows that despite high unemployment, President Obama could still reclaim the White House based on the economy's performance, the AP reports. That's because voters react to the change in unemployment, not its absolute number. What they care about: whether the unemployment rate has fallen in the two years before the presidential election.

No incumbent since 1956 has won when unemployment rose during that two-year stretch (take Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush). But even small drops in unemployment can help a president win re-election (it fell 0.2% before Bill Clinton won in 1996). As for Obama's presidency: Unemployment hit 10% in October 2009 and has now tumbled to 8.5%. Unemployment isn't the only factor, however, and the jobless rate could rise again, perhaps due to Europe's debt crisis. (Read more unemployment stories.)

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