After being battered by the Clinton campaign over bad economic figures in the first two quarters of 1992, George H. W. Bush's reelection campaign should have been relieved that things started picking up over the summer. The nation added 141,000 new jobs in August of that year, dropped off in September, and then resurged with 178,000 new jobs in October—some good news for the president just in time for the election.
Of course, we know how things worked out for the elder Bush. The good news came too late to counter Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid" mantra, and Bush lost handily. In fact, research I've conducted with other economists suggests that job growth in the first and second quarters of an election year is far more important than the third quarter, which is announced days before voters go to the polls.
June's tepid job growth, which led to no change in the unemployment rate, prompted the usual sour notes over for President Barack Obama's reelection chances. While the news is unquestionably bad for the president, the big picture is better for him than it may seem. In 1992, the economy added 379,000 jobs in the first half of the year. In 1996, when Clinton won reelection, the economy added 1,439,000 jobs in the first two quarters, and in 2004 it added 1,183,000 jobs in the same period. The economy has added 902,000 jobs in the first six months of 2012—not has high as Clinton or the younger Bush, but well over twice the growth during the first Bush's reelection campaign.
For the Obama campaign, this is a mixed blessing. While the President's economic numbers are not as bad as they may seem, his record is also largely set in stone. If history is any guide, neither a collapse or an economic miracle at this point will make much difference with an electorate whose mind is increasingly made up.
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David Rothschild is an economist. He has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @DavMicRot and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.