Sluggish Growth Makes Obama a Slight Favorite

I mentioned in the previous post that GDP growth was anemic; the economy increased by 1.5 percent in the second quarter, down from 2 percent in the first. Altogether, the economy has grown by 1.75 percent this year, which is nowhere close to where we need to be if we want a serious recovery from the Great Recession.

As far as the election is concerned, this isn’t great news for President Obama, but it isn’t terrible news either. Even slow growth is growth, and it’s unusual for incumbent presidents to lose reelection while presiding over forward economic movement. Of the three presidents who lost reelection in the post-war era, only two did so when the economy was growing. Gerald Ford lost despite average growth of 4.8 percent—blame Watergate—and George H.W. Bush lost despite presiding over 4.2 percent growth in 1992. Unfortunately for Bush, economic growth was mitigated by voter discontent over rising unemployment.

In most election models, 1.5 percent growth is enough to make Obama a slight favorite for reelection. Given current growth, the “Time for Change” model, developed by political scientist Alan Abramowitz, predicts that Obama will win between 50.2 and 50.8 percent of the popular vote, which corresponds with an Electoral College victory. Likewise, if growth stays on this trajectory through the rest of the year—and if Obama’s approval rating continues to hover at 47 percent—then in the model used by the Washington Post, Obama wins in more than 80 percent of simulations.

All of this is to say that we should be wary of claims that Obama is “doomed” or “toast” because of these GDP numbers. Historical precedent suggests he is a slim favorite for reelection, and that’s exactly where he stands at the moment.

For more polling information, go to The Prospect’s 2012 election map.