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This year employment is the main issue in the American elections and everything can crystallize for voters on 2nd November if the election is close. Both candidates have begun spinning the economic numbers to gain an advantage over the other
On 2 November, 96 hours before the US electorate go to the polls to elect the president the Labour department will put out the unemployment figures for the month of October. For the month of July there were an addition of 1,65,00 jobs but the unemployment figure ticked up to 8.3% whereas in June the economy added only 65,000 new non-farms jobs.
This is the year in which employment is the main issue in the American elections and everything can crystallize for voters on 2nd November if the election is close. The October job numbers can make all the difference with undecided voters who will switch depending on what the actual figure is. If the unemployment rate remains either at 8.2% or 8.3% it will not look good for President Obama and will remind voters of the perilous state of the economy and the fragility of the recovery four years after the great recession. However, a figure of below 8% could lead to a surge in favour of President Obama. The unemployment rate depends not only on the number of people actually hired in the previous month but the number of people who were looking for a job in the previous month and expecting new policies or expecting new direction after the elections may make people more hopeful to conceivably look for a job and that could end up hurting President Obama as the unemployment rate may look worse than it actually is.
Further, expect large barrage of last minute advertisements based on the unemployment rate near the 2nd of November on behalf of Governor Romney and President Obama in swing states which could break open a close election in favour of one side or the other. It will also have an impact in energizing workers on the ground and have an impact on the turnover on Election Day as either the Democrats or the Republicans are galvanised on Election Day. The numbers are swinging widely from month to month that there is no way to really prepare for the figure which is to come out on 2nd November.
The November surprise will follow on what is traditionally known as the October surprise which is an announcement in October by the president on a foreign policy issue that swings the voters in his favour on a rise of patriotism and populism. This tradition started with President Richard Nixon’s re-election bid in 1972 when he was running against the Democrat George McGovern and announced on imminent end of the Vietnam War. President Nixon ended up by winning in 49 states out of 50. He probably would have won the election anyway but the announcement led to a landslide in his favour.
Similarly in 1980 when Jimmy Carter was running for re-election Ronald Reagan expected him to announce a settlement of the Iran hostage crisis. But instead Jimmy Carter announced that the settlement of the hostage crisis would if at take place after the election. He gave up the chance of an October surprise.
So what could the October surprise be this time? The most common speculation is that President Obama may decide to bomb Iran and sweep into office on a tide of patriotism. That would silence the Neocorns. But I think the risk of bombing Iran is too great, particularly the spike it would have in oil prices and the chances of destabilising the world economy. But it is a fact that come October presidents do get tempted to pull a rabbit out of the bag.
The November 2nd announcement of the economic numbers has another consequence. The New York Times reported last week that President Obama has already spent $400 million on his re-election and could be pretty low on cash come November. There is speculation whether he will have enough money left to counter what is expected to be a blistering final round of campaign advertisements for the Republicans and the Republican SuperPACs in the last 96 hours after the employment numbers are released.
But the spinning has already begun. Both the campaigners have begun spinning the economic numbers to gain an advantage over the other.
President Obama posted on Facebook as follows: “Good News. As of July the economy has added private sector jobs for 29 straight months—for a total of 4.5 million jobs during that period. But we’ve got more work to do—stand with President Obama to keep up the progress.”
So in a surprising election expect more surprises.
(Harsh Desai has done his BA in Political Science from St Xavier's College & Elphinstone College, Bombay and has done his Master's in Law from Columbia University in the city of New York. He is a practicing advocate at the Bombay High Court.)