If you want a better understanding of the potential importance of today’s impressive January jobs report, check out a massive analysis Nate Silver posted (before the report was released, as it happens) on the relationship of election-year jobs gains and the electoral prospects of parties in power going back to 1948. You should read the whole thing if possible, since it is full of nuances and qualifiers. But here’s the nut graph:
If Mr. Obama has an approval rating of 52 percent by November, he will almost certainly win re-election. He’d also be a favorite if he’s at 50 percent. And 48 percent or 49 percent might also do the trick, since at that point Mr. Obama’s approval rating would likely exceed his disapproval rating.
But Mr. Obama is not quite there yet. The surest way for him to improve his approval rating will be to create jobs at a rate that exceeds the rate of population growth.
We can come up with an estimate of just how many jobs this might be if we put a president’s approval rating as of Feb. 1 and the payrolls numbers into a regression equation.
After some additional adjustments, Nate comes up with a figure of 151,000 as the average monthly jobs gains the president needs between now and November to put himself in a strong position for re-election, at least in terms of economic fundamentals. So the January figures (a net gain of 243,000 jobs) are a good start for 2012.