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”.
The polls haven’t been kind to any politicians recently. Congress has netted its worst approval rating ever. And Barack Obama hasn’t been an exception as the latest Gallup poll on his job approval ratings show. If he hasn’t figure out “it is the economy, stupid” someone better wake him up. The fact is there is a discernable trend, and that trend for him is down. To the the numbers:
A new low of 26% of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, down 11 percentage points since Gallup last measured it in mid-May and well below his previous low of 35% in November 2010.
Obama earns similarly low approval for his handling of the federal budget deficit (24%) and creating jobs (29%).
Gallup goes on to point out, in relative terms, the President’s foreign policy ratings are fine.
The president fares relatively better on foreign policy matters, with 53% of Americans approving of his handling of terrorism and roughly 4 in 10 approving on foreign affairs and the situation in Afghanistan. Also, 41% approve of Obama on education.
However, the primary issue of the day sees his numbers in the dumps. And, most importantly, the constituency he most needs, independents, are none to happy with his performance, or lack thereof.
Nothing particularly surprising about the numbers from those identifying with the two major parties. But that middle column spells big trouble for the incumbent if the primary issues in November of 2012 remains jobs, the economy and the deficit. And at this point, there’s little to point to which says they won’t still be the top concerns for voters.
Yesterday as I made my predictions, RealClear Politics was showing 123 safe Democrat seats and 163 safe Republican seats.
Today, while checking, RCP had changed those numbers to 121/163. That means 2 seats for the Dems have moved out of “safe” and into “likely”.
Additionally 3 have moved from “likely” to “leans” Dem and 6 have moved from “leans” Dem to toss up (34 toss ups yesterday, 40 today).
Not a good trend if you’re a Democrat hoping for a miracle.
RCP now has it +65 for the GOP. I’ll stick with my +61.