The “Misery Index” was invented by economist Arthur Koon, an adviser to President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960’s. It’s a fairly simple formula really. Inflation plus the unemployment rate equals the misery index. Of course since it was first published, we’ve changed the way we compute unemployment so when you see that number today, you have to remember it is lower because of that change.
But still, relatively speaking, it is a good indicator of our economic condition. Today, the misery index stands at 12.87. For the past 4 presidents, the index has ranged from a low of 6.05 under Bill Clinton to the high you see today. Interestingly one term president George H.W. Bush had high index numbers during his presidency (low 10.9, high 11.10). And we know how that turned out.
Barack Obama’s numbers are the highest of the 4.
I noticed that some pundits are trying to compare Obama’s approval ratings at this point in his presidency to those of Ronald Reagan. The misery index gives you an idea of why that won’t fly.
Obama’s index numbers started at 8.92 in 2009. Reagan had an index of 17.97 his first year in office. But the second year numbers tell the tale. In his second year (1982) the index dropped by 2 plus points to 15.87. And the third year numbers are actually a tick lower than Obama’s at 12.82. But notice the trend. It’s down. Markedly down.
Obama’s is going the other way – from 8.92 to 12.87. So while you can certainly say they had similar numbers, what you can’t draw from those numbers is the probability of similar results when election time rolls around. One was trending markedly down and the other is doing the same on the up side. The only thing that has saved Obama from a much higher misery index is the fact that inflation has been successfully dampened by the Fed to this point. If that ever breaks loose, we may see an Carter era Misery Index.
Here’s another comparison that isn’t favorable for the incumbent. The new poverty index numbers are in and they’re not good. A sample:
Americans below the poverty line in 2010: 46.2 million
Official U.S. poverty rate in 2007, before the recession: 12.5 percent
Poverty rate in 2009: 14.3 percent
Poverty rate in 2010: 15.1 percent
Another index trending upward that isn’t good news for an incumbent.
So when you see the left trying to put a brave face on the numbers and making comparisons, all you need to remember to understand they’re simply whistling past the graveyard is that at the same point in each presidency, Reagan’s numbers were getting a lot better while Obama’s continue to get a lot worse. If you’re going to make a comparison to a recent President, Jimmy Carter or even George H.W. Bush are better comparisons – not Ronald Reagan.
And the key to remember about Bush and Carter is this salient description – “one term president”.
Obama is prone to liken himself to Ronald Reagan at times (and Abe Lincoln at others). If you remember the Reagan/Carter race, the question in the title is a paraphrase of the question Reagan rhetorically ask of voters during the campaign. Obama is definitely on the wrong side of that Reagan question. You can expect a resurrection of that question (if the GOP has any sense at all) in the 2012 election.
The answer to the question manifests itself in a recent poll and it is not very encouraging for the incumbent president. An NBC/Washington Post poll just released gives the latest “atmospherics”:
Despite those hundreds of billions of blown stimulus dollars and almost as many upturn promises from Joe Biden, 82% of Americans still say their job market is struggling. Ninety percent rate the economy negatively, including half who give it the worst rating of "poor."
A slim 15% claim to be "getting ahead financially," half what it was in 2006. Fully 27% say they’re falling behind financially. That’s up 6 points since February.
A significant majority (54%) says they’ve been forced to change their lifestyle significantly as a result of the economic times — and 60% of them are angry, up from 44%.
So, you say, doesn’t it depend on who voters blame as to who this poll negatively effects? Well, yes, of course. And here’s an indicator of who that might be:
Strong support among liberal Democrats for Obama’s jobs record has plummeted 22 points from 53% down below a third. African Americans who believe the president’s measures helped the economy have plunged from 77% to barely half.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the fact that independents have been deserting Obama for quite some time. We just had a Pew poll that said many whites that previously supported him have left him. And it gets worse for Obama:
Obama’s overall job approval on the economy has slid below 40% for the first time, with 57% disapproving. And strong disapprovers outnumber approvers by better than two-to-one.
That prompted Bernie Sanders, Socialist – Vermont, to exclaim the other day:
"I think it would be a good idea if President Obama faced some primary opposition."
He’s not the first to float that heretical idea either. And that sort of talk is a sure sign of crumbling support within one’s political base. When even the “homers” aren’t happy (and the reason really doesn’t matter) then you can be assured most of the rest of the voters aren’t happy either. Obama is trying desperately to run to the center and all he’s really accomplishing by that run is to lose base support. It doesn’t appear the big middle is warming to his attempts to woo them as support for him in all areas continues to drop.
Standard disclaimer applies – in political terms it is still light years to November 2012. That said, these are trends we’re talking about here. They’ve been developing over quite some time. Looking into the future, and given the economic reports we’re seeing, it’s hard to see how this all improves enough for Obama to offset the high negativity that is building right now.
And despite continued efforts to push this off on Bush, this is now considered to be Obama’s economy, whether he likes it or not. The excuse was good for a year or so as many were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that. However, now it’s considered whining. Obama ran for the job, got it and is now expected to perform up to the standards or expectations he established in his campaign. On all fronts, he’s falling woefully short and most people have no patience for the continued attempts to pass his failure off on someone else.
So …. are you better off than you were in January, 2009?
Very few Americans find themselves able to answer “yes”, at least at this point.