The table below shows the U.S. unemployment rate, the incumbent and challenger of each presidential election, and the winner of each election from 1904 to present.

Prior to 1944 (above the bold line) the unemployment rate shown is a yearly average. After 1944 (below the bold line) the unemployment rate shown is from October of the election year (the last unemployment rate before the election).

If the incumbent candidate was not running for re-election, then we assume the party of the previous president was the incumbent.


Click to enlarge:



Since WW2, no incumbent has won reelection when the unemployment rate was above 7.4% (Reagan in 1984 was the extreme, highlighted in green).  Currently the unemployment rate is 7.8%.  So, if Obama wins, he will accomplish what no other incumbent has in the past 70 years.

At the other extreme, the incumbent lost in 1952 (Stevenson), 1968 (Humphrey) and 2000 (Gore) when the unemployment rate was below 4% (highlighted in red).  If the unemployment rate matters, these incumbents should have won.

In the 1930s, Roosevelt won repeatedly despite the highest unemployment rates in the country’s history (highlighted in green).  He also won in 1944 with the lowest unemployment rate in the country’s history (also highlighted in green).

Bottom Line

If one is trying to use unemployment as the sole factor in determining election outcomes, we do not see a consistent relationship.  If you’re the incumbent, falling unemployment is always preferred to rising employment, but do not confuse this with increased re-election chances.

Source: Bianco Research

For more information on this institutional research, please contact:

Max Konzelman

Category: Politics, Think Tank

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

One Response to “The Unemployment Rate And Presidential Elections”

  1. VennData says:

    Of course under Obama the rate dropped from over ten percent, so the relevent data is the trend what was the trend of his presidency?

    And you also have to look at the partisan antics. How much partisan antics like Jack Welsh’s pack of lies that backfires in the out-of-power party’s face will happen?

    And how many asshats will threaten their employees?,0,4209465.story
    Hey employees, threaten to QUIT if Romney wins.