Obama’s Winning Because of The Economy, Not Despite It

US President Barack Obama listens to the National Anthem during a memorial service at the Pentagon September 11, 2012 in Washington, DC.


There’s a meme out there that Barack Obama’s narrow-but-persistent lead is somehow happening despite the state of the economy. I’d say it’s largely the reverse—the economy’s doing pretty meh and Obama’s doing about what you’d expect based on that.

To set the table here’s a reminder of what it looks like to have an election amidst a bad economic trend. Check out the 18 months of job growth leading up to November 2008:

No surprise, the challenger won. And here’s the 18 months leading up to November 2010:

No surprise, the out party swept the midterms. And here’s the 18 months leading up to today:

That’s like night and day.

Now what’s true is that the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high. To get it down, you need the kind of strong bounceback we had leading to the 1984 election:

But of course Reagan didn’t just win in 1984, he won a crazy landslide. The economy’s not doing nearly that well and nearly is Obama’s re-election campaign. But things are going okay. The growth out there is a bit tepid, but it’s positive and real. And so the incumbent is narrowly ahead. That could change, and maybe it will. But I don’t think there’s anything surprising here.