The sharp drop in the unemployment rate is a major political boon for President Obama, allowing him to shift attention from Mitt Romney’s strong performance on Wednesday night’s debate and buttressing the president’s case that his economic policies have been effective.
At 7.8 percent unemployment, the jobless rate is at its lowest since January 2009. September 2012 was the first full month of Obama’s presidency in which unemployment was below 8 percent.
As Mitt Romney and his campaign are likely to note, 12 million Americans remain jobless and millions of others have either given up looking or are in part-time posts but would like full-time ones. Even Democrats concede the economic recovery remains sluggish.
But for the first time in months, the numbers show unmistakable economic improvement. The drop in the unemployment rate did not come from workers deciding to leave the workforce but gains in jobs in healthcare and other industries.
For Obama, this news is likely to stem the unrelenting criticism he has taken from fellow liberals after Wednesday’s debate. He can use this news to repeat the argument he made in the debate and has throughout his four years in office: the recession started under President Bush and his policies have softened its effects.
The big unknown is how this news affects the 7-10 percent of the electorate that remains undecided. ‘(Related: Does strong performance in debate give Romney what he needs to win?)
For months, Romney has highlighted high unemployment in his case that the president simply isn’t up to the job and doesn’t deserve to be reelected. But that argument so far not convinced enough Americans to replace Obama, as Romney has been trailing in polls most of the year.
Now, Obama will learn if positive news shifts voters in his favor.
To be sure, this job news could simply have no effect at all, as many of the events of 2012 have had. Despite huge attention given to various gaffes of the candidates and other news, Obama has had a narrow, but consistent lead throughout the race. It surged upward right after the Democratic National Convention, but polls have now shown a return to Obama’s 2-4 point advantage nationally and in swing states.
The president’s core coalition of women, blacks, Hispanics and voters under 30 has largely stuck with him, and Obama is very likely to win as long as those groups turn out on Election Day and his deficit among men remains around 10 points, as it is in most polls now.