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Reads and Reactions: Jobs and G.O.P. Turnout

In this edition: jobs, Republican turnout, intraparty boxing and Reagan deification.


Early Friday morning, FiveThirtyEight analyzed past employment data and came up with this rough guide: President Obama needs the economy to add at least about 150,000 jobs a month to have a decent shot at re-election.

Well, later Friday morning, the West Wing got some good news. The Labor Department reported that the economy added 243,000 jobs in January. Slate’s Matthew Yglesias believes this report is a sign of good things to come. “Some tragic unforeseen disaster could hit us, but if it doesn’t, we should be in for a string of increasingly strong quarters and accelerating growth that put us back on the path to full employment,” Mr. Yglesias wrote. However, Mr. Yglesias also cautioned that perhaps those planning Mr. Obama’s second inauguration should hold off for a little.

Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, saw no such ray of sunshine.

Aside from the jobs report, the other big news story continues to be the Republican nominating contest. FiveThirtyEight examined turnout in the first four Republican nominating contests and found it to be lagging, particularly among self-identifying Republicans (rather than among voters registered as Republicans, some of whom do so temporarily for the primary).

The Telegraph’s Mike Smithson wondered whether the depressed turnout was a product of an unusually negative campaign. “A number of pundits are suggesting that this has been the most negative campaign ever…,” Mr. Smithson wrote. He also suggested that lower Republican turnout was good news for Mr. Obama.

But, on that note, the FiveThirtyEight post had words of caution for giddy Democrats: “It is not entirely clear what implications this has for November. Rallying the party base is often easier than persuading independent voters, and levels of voter engagement sometimes become clear only late in a presidential campaign.”

Indeed, Sean Trende, at RealClearPolitics, went back and looked at primary turnout for both parties going back to 1972 and found that a party’s primary turnout was not a good predictor of general election success or failure.

The general election was also a concern when the Republican nominating process took a surprising turn into populist territory. As Mr. Romney’s competitors savaged him for his time as a venture capitalist, FiveThirtyEight suggested the intraparty attacks could hurt him if he survives until November. And, sure enough, Mr. Romney’s favorability numbers began to erode.

Conservative opinion-makers seem worried. Charles Krauthammer, at National Post’s Full Comment, wrote, “This is the G.O.P. maneuvering itself right onto Obama terrain.” And Tina Korbe, at the popular conservative blog Hot Air, “… it seems evident even by Romney’s performances on the debate stage that the campaign has begun to take its toll.”

But not everyone thinks a bare-knuckled nomination fight will leave Mr. Romney bruised and bloodied, assuming he is the nominee. The National Journal Political Insiders Poll from Jan. 20 surveyed 100 Republicans and 98 Democrats, and 89 percent of the Republicans and 43 percent of the Democrats thought the primary campaign had made Mr. Romney stronger. “Many Republicans feel the primary process has been a critical pressure-test for Romney’s campaign skills, resulting in a more honed and prepared candidate,” Hotline’s Taylor West and Peter Bell wrote.

One area where Mr. Romney is undoubtedly trailing Mr. Gingrich is in invoking the Republican patron saint Ronald Reagan. The word “Reagan” has fallen from Mr. Gingrich’s lips 55 times in 17 debates. In the same number of debates, Mr. Romney has only mentioned the former president six times. The gulf in Reagan invocations prompted The Week magazine to ask, “Is Newt Gingrich exaggerating his ties to Reagan?


At The Times’s Economix blog, our colleague Floyd Norris looked at the validity of the employment numbers.

Brad Plumer, at Ezra Klein’s WonkBlog, looks at the tendency of the monthly payroll reports to be too pessimistic.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, has an illuminative series of charts showing the depth of the Great Recession and the economy’s difficult climb out of the hole.

Massimo Calabresi at Time’s Swampland blog, unpacked a sharp drop in the labor force participation rate, a phenomenon some commentators are pointing to as evidence the employment numbers are a fool’s gold. But Mr. Calabresi said the participation rate drop was itself deceptive, and that, “all in all, it was a very grim day for serial pessimists.”

The Political Math blog also came down on Mr. Calabresi’s side.

Micah Cohen is FiveThirtyEight’s former managing editor.