On Thursday, I wrote, Jobs Report Good News for Senate Elections. As if reading my mind, Jonathan Bernstein responded, Sunny Jobs Report Won’t Save Democrats. His argument is that if things go very badly for Obama in Ukraine, Iraq, and elsewhere, or the economy tanks, it will be very bad for the Democrats. But if none of these things happen it will not help the Democrats all that much. Fair enough, but I think he’s being too simplistic about it regardless.
Looking at the Senate, the very fact that the control of this chamber is pretty much a toss up is an indication that the lack bad international news and a rapidly improving economy are having an effect on the election. The Democrats are way overexposed. They ought to be looking at being decimated with only 43 seats come January. Instead, the most likely result will be that will have 48 or 49 seats.
But let’s look at the unemployment numbers for this year and the previous two mid-term elections. In 2006, the unemployment rate was going down by 0.03% per month. The 2010 number was 0.04%. And the number thus far this year is 0.12%. So while the economy was improving when Bush and Obama saw their parties lose big, it was not improving at a fast enough rate to stand out in an off-year election.
If the current trend continues with the employment, the rate could 5.5% by the time of the election. I’m not saying that would have a huge effect, only that it would have some positive effect. And even Bernstein accepts my overall argument. He wrote “there’s more downside risk than upside opportunity.” Well, yeah. We all know that. But Mark Begich might win in Alaska without any help at all from the economy. Mary Landrieu only needs a little help in Louisiana. No one is suggesting that if the economy adds 400,000 jobs each of the next four months that Matt Silverstein will be the new Senator from Oklahoma and the Senate will have a Democratic super-majority.
But Bernstein is right to note the downside risks. Things could go very poorly over the next few months. The Republicans in Congress have almost unlimited powers to harm the economy, but I think at this time they are likely to stay quiet, figuring they will sail into power if they do nothing. And I don’t see Obama doing anything too terrible in international affairs. The good economic news really is good news for the Democrats. But it’s not time to start partying.