I'm back from DC. While there, I talked to a number of political scientists about this November's presidential election.
We talked for several minutes about the statistical models that link the state of the economy and likely vote outcomes. Of course, these models didn't hold up all that well in 2000.
In any case, one of the scholars noted that actual economic data doesn't even matter as much as perception of economic conditions, which are at least partly based on media stories.
So I got to thinking. Lots of economic indicators are showing that the US is emerging from a recession -- but it's been a jobless recovery. Something like 120,000 new jobs are needed in the US monthly just to keep pace with population growth.
Job growth is starting to register, but Bush is still likely to be the first president to suffer a net negative job record since Herbert Hoover. There are literally millions fewer jobs now than there were in 2000. Lots of other people (over 300,000 in December) have apparently given up and stopped looking for jobs and others are underemployed. Professionals, for example, might be earning a fraction of their prior salary by doing some consulting.
So here are my two ideas for making sure this issue resonates against Bush in 2004:
First, we need to repeat "worst President for workers since Hoover" as often as possible. Write a letter to the editor of your paper!
Second, discouraged and underemployed workers should be encouraged to file for unemployment. If unemployment rates increase this year, and thereby more accurately reflect the state of the economy, then Bush will face a much more difficult task. Readers: know any underemployed workers?