The internet and cable TV have never-ending primal screams about emails and locker room talk, but most presidential elections are decided on fundamentals, or at least with candidates that understand the fundamentals. Five key fundamentals are:
- presidential job approval
- “direction of the country” polling data
- job creation and employment levels
- war and peace
Of those five fundamentals, four lean heavily towards Hillary Clinton this year.
President Barack Obama’s job approval is at 51%, and trends indicate it could reach 52% by election day. Obama has never been real popular like Ike, Reagan and Bill Clinton, but he has “timed” his job approval to improve around election time in 2012 and 2016. It is actually pretty incredible if you look at the graphs. (And his job approval has been depressed during both mid-terms elections on his watch, helping cause historic Democratic Party electoral losses.)
Unemployment is at 5%, and there are 5.4 million job openings in the country. If all those jobs were filled tomorrow unemployment would be approximately 1.5%. And they are systematically being filled, and will be filled until there is another recession. However, jobs are not being filled all that quickly, in part because employers are having a hard time finding good candidates to hire. In other words there is a labor shortage in many parts of the country. You could also argue that if you don’t have a job now, you don’t want a job, and there are certainly huge government subsidies out there not to work that millions are collecting. Social Security disability (11 million), food stamps (45 million), and unemployment compensation (2 million) are the type of government subsidies that keep otherwise hearty people from working.
Even so, full-time jobs in the U.S. economy are now at an all-time high, while part-time jobs peaked during the 2008-09 Great Recession, and have stayed at those high levels. Household income grew faster in the past 12 months than at any time since 1967, when that survey started. Incomes are still weak compared with the turn of the century, but are rapidly improving now, especially in urban areas.
I would also add that there is now an approximately $2 trillion underground economy in the U.S., and therefore our current jobs and incomes are grossly understated. Those unmeasured jobs and incomes are mostly with immigrants and lower income folks.
Prices are reasonably stable, and those all important gas prices are fairly low. Energy is plentiful, and cheap.
Obama and Clinton inherited two huge, unpopular wars. Obama has systematically wound down both, and resisted jumping into big new commitments overseas.
That leaves the “direction of the country” polling number, which is pretty rotten now at 64% wrong direction. That should be weighing Clinton down, but it does not appear to be cutting against her. It may be that Donald Trump and the GOP are not making a good case that they can improve things.
Most voters don’t follow politics closely the way readers of this blog do, although probably more do now than they used to because of 21st century ubiquitous information sources. Nonetheless it is the fundamentals that will determine their voting preferences, not the way Clinton ran her foundation…or for that matter how Trump ran his. Of course a candidate can mess up on the fundamentals, the way Al Gore did in 2000, when he should have won in a walk. And a savvy statesman could perhaps take advantage of that bad “direction of the country” number and make a good case on how things could be improved. But neither of those things are happening this year.
(Note: All polling data in this essay refer to the RealClearPolitics polling averages)
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