There was hardly any polling data on Thursday, and the FiveThirtyEight presidential forecast was little changed. But the economic ticker was more active, with the release of a relatively favorable report on private-sector payrolls, and a slight reduction in the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance.
Still, the stock market was down slightly as investors anticipated the release of Friday morning’s jobs report.
Expectations are quite modest: surveys of economists find that they expect 90,000 to 100,000 jobs to have been added in June. The jobs report, however, has frequently defied expectations in the past. On average, economists’ forecasts miss by about 70,000 jobs in one direction or another.
An upside or downside miss of that magnitude could have significant consequences for the news media’s narrative of the presidential campaign. It seems as though we’re at something of an inflection point in terms of the prevailing sentiment about the state of the race.
If the economy is found to have added 150,000 to 200,000 jobs last month, you may begin to hear talk about how President Obama is on a winning streak. Nobody, I hope, will suggest that Mitt Romney faces insurmountable odds of winning the White House, but the notion that he is at least a moderate underdog may begin to sink in.
A downside miss, however, would mean that hardly any jobs were created in June. That would very probably shift the conversation away from the relatively favorable news stories, like the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care, that Mr. Obama has had over the past few weeks. The election might again come to be viewed as more of a tossup.
To be clear, I don’t necessarily mean to endorse these shifts in conventional wisdom as being all that meaningful or all that wise. Our model accounts directly for the jobs numbers, but it will probably have a somewhat less dramatic reaction to them than the headlines do.
Still, I’m not one to complain about the attention paid to the jobs report. If it might receive slightly too much coverage relative to other economic reports (it’s best to look at the consensus of economic data rather than focus on any one number), political reporters pay too little attention to economic data in general, in my view.
Perhaps that’s a case of two wrongs making a right. But there’s much more at stake in Friday’s jobs number than in most of what receives a comparable amount of coverage in political news outlets.