This election will be decided by the economy

WASHINGTON – The figure to keep in mind about this year’s race for the White House is that no president has won a second term in modern history when the unemployment rate was above 7.2%.

The unemployment rate for August was 8.4%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Sept. 4.

Charlie Cook, the mastermind political analyst and soothsayer for the widely read Cook Political Report, told his readers in a headline that “Trump’s Ceiling Is Too Low for Him to Be Reelected.”

“Just as it was in July, post-Republican convention polling pegs Joe Biden’s lead over President Trump at somewhere between 8 and 10 points,” Cook wrote in his Sept. 15 newsletter.

As usual, Cook’s conclusions are based on the latest polls, and he covers a lot of them.

Two national, live-telephone-interview polls “conducted after the conclusion of the GOP convocation, by CNN and Selzer and Company/Grinnell College, showed Biden leading by 8 points. 

The Quinnipiac University survey put Biden up by 9 points, while Monmouth University’s poll showed a 10-point spread,” Cook added

Cook further advised that these polls were worth taking seriously.

“In each of the four polls, the former vice president held between 49 and 51% of the vote; each had the incumbent between 41 and 43%. That 41-43% support matches precisely the range of Trump’s job-approval numbers – approval ratings being the most reliable predictor of how an incumbent president will perform,” he explained.

“Worth keeping in mind is how these numbers fit into a broader context,” Cook continued. “During Trump’s first year in office, the Gallup Organization gave him an average 38% job-approval rating, the lowest of any first-term, elected president since the end of World War II and 11 points worse than the second-lowest, Bill Clinton.”

In Trump’s second year, his polls averaged two points higher, at 40%, the lowest second year of any postwar elected president. By his third year, he rose another two points to 42%, “the second-worst third year in office behind Jimmy Carter’s 37%,” said Cook.

“That an incumbent president can have a six-month run of 50-year-low unemployment levels and still never hit 50% in any major national poll suggests that he’s got not just a firm ceiling, but an unprecedentedly low one,” Cook added.

But if anyone thinks that Trump’s support will drop when the next negative story breaks, don’t forget that “it is hard to take a drop if you’ve never risen in the first place,” Cook warned.

Conversely, anyone who thinks Trump is going to make an unexpected comeback will likely be proven wrong, he argued.

Still, more recent head-to-head polls suggest the race is tightening. A CNN poll between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1 showed Trump polling 49% on the economy and Biden barely behind at 48%.

“I understand the caution that many in my business have after the surprising outcome in 2016, but the only way [2016] resembles 2020 is that they both are presidential years, Trump is the Republican nominee, and both years begin with a 2,” Cook stated. He concluded, “This is not 2016.”