As jobs picture improves, so do Obama reelection chances

President Obama’s reelection got a boost Friday from the best monthly jobs report on the U.S. economy since February, something that gave his campaign team more fuel in making their argument that the economy is making steady progress.

While the good news was coupled with an uptick in the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, analysts predicted that if the job numbers—however murky—are maintained over the next several months, Obama is likely to win reelection in November against his opponent Mitt Romney.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday the economy added 163,000 jobs in July, more than expected and more than the economy added in May and June combined.

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To be sure, no sitting president since Franklin Roosevelt has won reelection with a jobless rate above 8 percent, which poses a significant problem for Obama.  A recent poll for The Hill shows that 53 percent believe that Obama has "taken the wrong actions and slowed the recovery down."

After a series of bad jobs reports for Team Obama, A New York Times/CBS poll last month also showed that two out three registered voters believes the president's policies contributed in some way to the economic downturn. 

That said, Friday’s numbers are “definitely helpful” to the Obama campaign, said Joel Prakken, a senior managing director of Macroeconomic Advisers.

“Numbers like this for the next three months, will definitely be an encouraging sign,” Prakken said.  

Political observers agreed with that assessment. While the reviews of the jobs numbers were mixed on Friday, giving a modest advantage to Obama, they point to the market’s reaction on Friday: stocks surged on the news, adding to the sense that the jobs report for once has given Obama’s campaign momentum. 

“The markets certainly thought the jobs numbers were good,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, adding that the jobs numbers “signal the slowdown is not worsening and that the economy may be picking up a little.

“If these kinds of jobs numbers continue, it’s good but not great for Obama… but it’s still positive news for him,” Jillson said.

Discussing the jobs numbers on Friday, Obama took the same cautious approach he has used with both positive and negative reports in recent months, emphasizing that more work needs to be done.

“Let’s acknowledge we’ve still got too many folks out there who are looking for work,” the president said at the White House. “We’ve got more work to do on their behalf, not only to reclaim the kind of financial security that too many Americans have felt was slipping away from them for too long.”

At the same time, Obama heralded the numbers, which he said were part of the 4.5 million new jobs created over the last 29 months and 1.1 million new jobs this year.

“These are our neighbors, family members finding work and the security that comes with work,” he said, standing in a room before middle class workers.

Republicans on Friday were quick to blast Obama for not having a plan to improve the economy, focusing instead on the higher unemployment rate.

“Today’s increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle class families,” Romney said in a statement. “We’ve now gone 42 consecutive months with the unemployment rate above eight percent. Middle class Americans deserve better, and I believe America can do better.”

Kirsten Kukowski, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, acknowledged that, “any jobs created is a positive and a step in the right direction.”

But Kukowski said that expectations have been set low for Obama “because the jobs numbers have been so bad.”

“The fact is, that the unemployment number is ticking up and obviously we’re seeing so many people leave the job force,” Kukowski said. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”

Tara Sinclair, an associate professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University, said the mixed nature of the jobs report made it easy for both sides to have viable talking points.

Sinclair said the numbers on Friday were based on two separate surveys, which happen to disagree. One survey tracks employers while the other survey is based on data from households.

“There are reasons to look at both of them and take the other with a grain of salt,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair said Friday’s report is “surprisingly good relative to what we were expecting.

“But even though they’re better than we were expecting, it isn’t a ‘Yay! Bring out the ticker tape.’”

This story was updated at 12:27 p.m.