Report

It's All About Jobs, Except When It's Not: Unemployment and Presidential Approval Ratings 1981-2009

  • January 26, 2010

As the Obama administration redoubles its effort to communicate its concerns about unemployment in the face of sagging approval ratings, a look at the connection between the rise and fall of joblessness and the political fortunes of past presidents in the modern era is instructive. Recent history shows that the public response to all presidents has been shaped to some degree by rising or falling unemployment. However, only Ronald Reagan's ratings in his first term have borne as close a connection as have Obama's to changes in the unemployment rate.

In fact, the relationship between unemployment and presidential approval varies from crystal clear to murky. Indeed since 1981 there have been a number of times when the ties between changes in joblessness rates and public judgments of the president have been weak or even indiscernible. But the link is strongest when unemployment rises precipitously. And it weakens, or even disappears entirely, when other concerns – such as national security – become dominant public issues.

Read the full report It's All About Jobs, Except When It's Not: Unemployment and Presidential Approval Ratings 1981-2009 on the Pew Research Center's Web site.