Obama’s favorability holding steady amid weak jobs reports

Several key indicators monitored by Gallup show voters feel better about the economy now than they did when President Obama entered office.

By and large, those surveyed think their standard of living has improved since Obama was sworn in, according to Gallup. The polling also detects a steady uptick in the confidence people have in their own employers expanding their workforce.

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The findings offer a possible explanation for why the president’s poll numbers have been impervious to months of dour unemployment reports.

Indeed, Gallup’s daily tracking poll on Tuesday found Obama received a 3-point post-convention bump that gives him a 50-44 percent edge on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Obama is ahead in a number of the swing states that will decide the presidential race.

All of this is a bit of a surprise given the economy, which in August added only 96,000 jobs, much fewer than expected and not enough to keep up with population growth.

Many also say they feel worse off now then they did four years ago.

A poll conducted for The Hill last week found 52 percent of likely voters said the country is in worse shape now than it was in September 2008.

And more than half of those polled in an August USA Today/Gallup survey said they were not better off now than four years ago.

One key factor that might make sense of the seemingly conflicting sets of data is that while in September 2008 the economy was sinking, it hadn’t completely sunk.

The first job report after Obama’s election in November 2008 found unemployment rose from 6.1 percent to 6.5 and the economy shed 240,000 jobs in October.

Those figures were terrible, but it would get much worse.

The first report after Obama took office found the unemployment rate rising from 7.2 to 7.6 percent in January 2009, while the economy shed 598,000 jobs. No wonder Gallup found historically low measurements in economic confidence and satisfaction among voters at that time.

Since then, some of Gallup’s surveys on economic indicators have shown a steady improvement.

Gallup’s job creation index was a -5 when Obama took office, but now stands at +19. The index is based on the percentage of workers who report that their company or place of employment is hiring new workers and expanding the size of its workforce, minus the percentage who say their company or place of employment is letting people go and reducing the size of its workforce.

The percentage of people polled by Gallup who say their standard of living is getting better stands at 48 percent today, compared to 35 percent when Obama took office. The 48 percent figure is near the 52 percent high for Obama’s term, which was reached earlier this year in the months of January, April and May.

Neither of those figures is stellar, but they do show a steady climb in economic confidence.

It also seems likely that the monthly job reports are overhyped by politicians and the media.

Figures in the reports are confusing to many voters.

For example, the jobless rate actually dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 in the August report, even as the economy added a piddling number of jobs.

Unemployment fell because people gave up the search for work, as was highlighted in numerous reports. But does that sink in with voters?

The reports are also revised frequently, which means the first Friday of every month reflects only a snapshot of the nation’s employment that is frequently wrong.

Finally, the economics in individual states can be different from the national unemployment report.

Take Ohio. Unemployment in that critical swing state stood at 7.2 percent in July, more than a point lower than the national average. The rate has dropped more than 3 percentage points since its high of 10.6 in January 2010.

To be sure, the Gallup data do not show strong confidence in Obama or in the economy among voters, but do suggest many people feel the country is in better shape now than it was when Obama was elected.

That’s the key for Obama, who would be very lucky to see the jobless rate drop below 8 percent by November. He must hope instead that he can convince voters things are improving, just as Franklin Roosevelt did. Roosevelt, of course, is the last president to win reelection with unemployment above 8 percent.

Swanson is the news editor at The Hill.

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