Yglesias uses the above chart as evidence that the labor market isn’t “driving American politics anymore”:
The labor market is not only stronger in 2014 than it was back in 2012, but the pace of improvement is markedly superior. But while 2012 growth was obviously good enough to get Barack Obama elected, in the fall of 2014 his approval numbers are bad and the Democratic Party’s midterm aspirations rest on Greg Orman’s efforts to avoid answering questions about his ideology.
Megan Thee-Brenan compares Americans’ views on the economy to Obama’s approval ratings:
The economy outpaced all other issues in importance to voters in a New York Times/CBS News poll in mid-September, and 44 percent of Americans rated the economy as good. This marked the highest positive reading since 2007. Even as Americans are feeling better about the economy, they decline to credit the president with its improvement. The Times/CBS News poll found 53 percent of Americans disapproved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, and his overall job approval rating was under water, with 40 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving.
How Waldman explains this disconnect:
[D]espite the healthy job growth, incomes aren’t rising.
A good economy isn’t just one where you’ve got a job, it’s one where you’ve got a job and you’re being paid what you’re worth. The income benefits of the recovery have all gone to the top. Millions of people are also still digging themselves out of the holes they got into during the Great Recession, whether it was foreclosure, credit card debt, or what have you. Even if you now have a reasonably good job, if you lost your home and cashed out your 401K on the way, it isn’t like things are looking spectacular.
Rising incomes are what really distinguished the Reagan recovery from the Obama recovery, and that, I suspect, is why the two Presidents enjoyed such different political fortunes. (According to Gallup, Reagan’s average approval rating during his second term was 55.3 per cent. That’s about ten points higher than what Obama has averaged so far in his second term.)
… At some point, one would hope, Americans will give President Obama and his party (and the Federal Reserve) at least a bit of credit for digging the economy out of a deep ditch and getting it back on the road. In the past five years, the U.S. economy has substantially outperformed most other advanced economies. Now that the unemployment rate has dipped back into the fives, maybe—just maybe—public perceptions will change. But until the recovery feeds into higher wages and rising living standards for ordinary Americans, the political payoff is likely to be limited.
Last but not least, Harry Enten explains why so little attention has been paid to the economy this election season:
The reason is simple: Accounting for the state of the economy doesn’t hold much, if any, predictive value for congressional elections. It’s not that the economy doesn’t affect House or Senate races — Democrats might be doing even worse if the economic recovery wasn’t somewhat decent. It’s just that other variables already sufficiently account for the economy’s effect.