Skip to main content
Report

How We’re Doing Ahead of the November Elections

Darrell M. West and William J. Antholis

Index #5: Last Five Quarters 

Political polarization has risen, the economy is shaky and some states are on the brink of fiscal collapse. In the fifth “How We’re Doing” Index, a team of scholars at the Brookings Institution has looked at the past five quarters to ascertain what factors might trigger a major shake-up in November.

Related Materials: 
Index #1: A Composite Index of Global and National Trends »
Index #2: What’s Blocking the Recovery? » 
Index #3: How We’re Doing in the World » 
Index #4: How We’re Doing as Debt Fears Rise »
Darrell West video on the Index »

<not-mobile message=”** To see the full indicator chart, please visit brookings.edu on your desktop **”>

“General Welfare”

2009 Q2

2009 Q3

2010 Q1

2010 Q2

U.S. GDP growth, annualized percent change
-0.7%
1.6%
5.0%
3.7%
2.4%
Unemployment rate
9.3%
9.6%
10.0%
9.7%
9.7%
Inflation rate
1.9%
3.7%
2.6%
1.5%
-0.7%
Dow Jones industrial average
8447
9712
10,428
10,857
9774
Consumer spending, annualized percent change
-1.6%
2.0%
0.9%
1.9%
1.6%
States Experiencing a Decline in Tax Revenue (year-to-year)
49
48
41
34
N/A
States Experiencing Increases in Total Employment
2
2
14
37
44
States Experiencing Increases in State/Local Government Employment
26
15
28
17
25
States Experiencing Increases in Unemployment Rate
49
32
28
32
7
Total Non-Farm Payroll Employment, annualized percent change
-5.0%
-3.1%
-1.3%
0.2%
2.1%
… in the Cleveland Metro area
-1.17
-0.62
0.26
1.08
N/A
… in the Las Vegas Metro area
-1.97
-0.38
-1.17
-0.12
N/A
… in the D.C. Metro area
-0.37
-0.35
0.16
1.14
N/A

“Common Defense”

2009 Q2

2009 Q3

2009 Q4

2010 Q1

2010 Q2

U.S. Troop Casualties for the War in Iraq
59
25
23
17
22
U.S. Troop Casualties for the War in Afghanistan
43
136
90
88
114

Authors

“Blessings of Liberty”

2009 Q2

2009 Q3

2009 Q4

2010 Q1

2010 Q2

President’s Approval Rating
63%
54%
51%
49%
48%
President’s Approval Rating By Race:
Hispanic
79%
71%
69%
66%
59%
Black
93%
93%
91%
91%
91%
White
56%
46%
43%
41%
40%
President’s Approval Rating By Party:
Democrat
90%
87%
84%
83%
82%
Republican
27%
19%
17%
15%
13%
Independent
61%
49%
47%
45%
44%
Approval rating of Congress
35%
31%
24%
19%
21%
“Satisfied with the way things are”
32%
32%
25%
22%
25%
Partisan Gap
63%
68%
67%
68%
69%

See data sources »
</not-mobile>

It does not bode well for incumbents that as of mid-July, only 25 percent of Americans say they are satisfied with the state of the country. Political polarization remains extremely high: There is an astounding 69 percentage point difference between Republican and Democratic approval of President Obama’s performance. The president’s overall approval rating has dropped 15 percentage points over the past year, and Congress’s approval rating has dropped 14 points. This striking polarization and the shift in independents’ support could be major factors in the midterm elections.

The administration raised hopes broadly about ending partisanship, and support for Obama among Democrats, Republicans and independents was high in the first two quarters of 2009, before dropping last summer. Bipartisanship, of course, is a two-way street, and over the past five quarters Republicans have mostly been unwilling to support the president’s initiatives. For his part, Obama invoked bipartisanship a great deal, but the public saw little in action. His signature effort at bipartisanship was a rare event: the Blair House summit on health-care reform.

Perhaps more troubling for the White House is its decline among independents; their approval of the president’s performance has fallen 17 points over the past year. Factors for the decline include the flagging economy and failure to bridge the partisan divide. And while many have focused on the president’s decline in general popularity among white voters, his ratings among Hispanic voters have taken a comparative freefall — despite the administration’s support for immigration reform and its response to Arizona’s immigration law.

Over the past year, Obama scored major legislative victories on health care and financial reform. But polarization in Congress has stymied efforts to address such pressing problems as climate change, energy conservation, immigration and campaign finance. High unemployment persists: 20 states have unemployment rates greater than 9 percent, and the levels are higher in some key metropolitan areas. Big portions of the country are still experiencing recession-like conditions, which limit states’s ability to deal with housing, education and transportation issues. U.S. real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of only 2.4 percent in the second quarter. This weak recovery in growth makes it difficult to substantially reduce unemployment.

With 37 gubernatorial races this year, more than two-thirds of the states could have new leadership. In the face of federal inaction, states and metro areas have become the real innovators in U.S. politics. Officials in the Kansas City metro area, the Bay Area, the Puget Sound region of Washington and greater Chicago, for example, have developed collaborative plans for maximizing their Recovery Act funds and state spending on energy efficiency, foreclosure responses and “green” jobs. Many gubernatorial candidates are emphasizing job creation, particularly through boosting exports. Almost all states and municipalities are required to balance their budgets, which forces them to make pragmatic decisions on taxes and spending. They do not have the luxury of doing nothing. 

The situation abroad is mixed. The president seems committed to reducing the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, though violence there persists. And the Afghanistan conflict continues to trouble many Americans and had been exacerbated by troubles in Pakistan even before the recent flooding. It is unclear whether the governments of those nations have the institutional will and capacity to deliver security and services to their people.

Overseas conflicts, the shaky U.S. economy and low trust in government make this a challenging election season for incumbents, particularly Democrats. The extremely high “partisan gap” makes it imperative for those elected to work across party lines if they hope to make big policy changes.

See also:
» State of Metropolitan America—portraying the demographic and social trends that shape our nation’s metropolitan areas
» Export Nation—analyzing exports of goods and services in our nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas
» GovWatch—tracking the progress and performance of our institutions in economic recovery
» MetroMonitor—a barometer of the health of America’s 100 largest metropolitan economies

Sources:

GDP growth:
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, NIPA Table 1.1.1. July 2010.
http://www.bea.gov/national/nipaweb/SelectTable.asp

Unemployment rate:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey Unemployment Data.
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ln

Inflation rate:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Price Index, All Urban Consumers, Seasonally Adjusted.
http://www.bls.gov/CPI

Consumer spending:
U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, NIPA Table 2.3.1.
http://www.bea.gov/National/nipaweb/index.asp

U.S. War Fatalities:
Department of Defense.
http://icasualties.org

Approval rating of the presidency (and difference between Democrats and Republicans):
The Gallup Organization. “Presidential Approval Ratings – Barack Obama.” Retrieved 21 July 2010 from The Gallup Poll website.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/116479/Barack-Obama-Presidential-Job-Approval.aspx

Approval rating of Congress:
The Gallup Organization. “Congress and the Public.” Retrieved 21 July 2010, from The Gallup Poll.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/1600/Congress-Public.aspx

National employment:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics survey Employment Data, Retrieved August 8, 2010
http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ce

Payroll employment at the state level:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, State and Metro Area Employment Statistics.
http://www.bls.gov/sae/#data

State-level tax data:
Rockefeller Institute of Government
http://www.rockinst.org/government_finance/

Payroll employment in the DC, Las Vegas, and Cleveland metro areas:
Moody’s Analytics
www.Economy.com

More

Get daily updates from Brookings