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dgraz On January - 9 - 2010

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I have heard many of the political pundits say that if the unemployment pictures does not improve we can expect one or more of the houses of congress to change hands, reverting back to a Republican majority. Not knowing what these predictions were based on I did some research.

I wanted to know what the unemployment trend was from 1949 to 2009. This data is available at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at http://data.bls.gov  for any period you wish to look at.  Taking this time frame I compared which parties were a majority in the Senate, the House of Representatives and which party held the Presidency.

The results to me were surprising.

In 1953 the Republicans gain a majority in the Senate and won the Presidency. Unemployment was on the rise.

In 1955 the Democrats won back the Senate. Unemployment was on a decline.

In 1961 the Democrats won back the Presidency and at that time unemployment had been rising and reached a peak of about 6 percent.

The Democrats held everything until 1969 when the Presidency reverted to the Republicans. From 1961 to 1968 unemployment had been in a free fall dropping below 4 percent. By 1969 though, there was a spike taking it back to above 4.5 percent. To me this did not seem to be that bad.

In 1977 the Democrats held everything again, when they won back the Presidency. Unemployment was in a decline at this time.

1981 Reagan won the office of President and the Senate was taken back by the Republican Party. Unemployment had been rapidly rising. It peaked in December of 1982 at 10.82 percent. This is the only data point that compares to what we have going on now. It rose under President Carter and continually rising under Reagan until the start of his second year. Looking at the trend now at the start of 2010 we may see history repeat itself with a decline starting.

In 1987 with a steady decrease in unemployment for 5 years, the Democrats took back the Senate.

1993 when President Clinton won back the Presidency, the unemployment rate was in a decline and it had been declining since the middle of 1991. The quote “It’s the economy stupid” was a little late.

The Republicans surprised everyone when in 1995 when they took both the House and the Senate. It is even more surprising that unemployment had been on a constant decline.

Unemployment was on the rise again when George W. Bush became President. The Senate was also taken back by the Democrats. That was 2001. So which party was being favored at this time?

The Democrats won back both houses of congress in 2007, unemployment was rising at the time this happened and we were well on our way into a recession.

Of course with unemployment still rising in 2009, the Presidency was back in the hands of the Democrats.

It was a surprise to me that the democrats held sway over both house of congress for a majority of the last 60 years, and the Presidency was a win for Republicans during that time by a smaller margin.

The chart I made is interesting to me as it shows that control switched hands some of the time when unemployment was on the rise and sometimes not. It was not enough to say that you can guarantee a sweep for one political party if you have high unemployment. In fact there were cases when everything was going great when control swapped hands.

35 Responses so far.

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  1. KevenSeven says:


    Apologies if I am late welcoming you to the Planet.

    I anticipate more such contributions with enthusiasm.

  2. KQuark says:

    Excellent post Dgraz you will see I love hard evidence like statistics used in analysis.

    I think it also shows once again how Americans feel about their government. For example, St. Ronnie could not do wrong with most Americans and was immune to just about anything negative that happened.

    • dgraz says:

      While researching this I started to look at GDP and deficit spending and found this article. I suppose it would make a separate post. Check this out if you like figures.

    • dgraz says:

      There were some disturbing trends shown by the graph and some revealing items.

      You, Nellie and Tiger99 all commented on the growth of Jobs under Democratic Presidents. This raises a couple of questions. Is the President the most important branch of government for job growth? Is it driven by the cabinet that is chosen?

      What I found as disturbing was that both houses of congress were under Democratic control for a very long time. Don’t you think we should have had things such as health care a long time ago? Of course the Senate was not a 60 majority for that time and blocked many initiatives.

  3. nellie says:

    There’s another way to look at this graph — How the party of the incumbent administration affects unemployment. As a general trend, unemployment goes down during Dem presidencies. It seems that after Democrats set things right and people feel comfortable, they forget the pain of the GOP presidencies and start falling for the conservative rhetoric again.

    Interesting chart. Thanks!

    • KQuark says:

      Exactly. If you look at presidents Democratic presidents in the long run they are always better for employment. I use to show this statistic quite a bit during the campaign.

      Average percentage increase in number of employed per year for all presidents since Hoover.

      * (D) Roosevelt 5.3
      * (D) Johnson 3.8
      * (D) Carter 3.1
      * (D) Truman 2.5
      * (D) Clinton 2.4
      * (D) Kennedy 2.3
      * (R) Nixon 2.2
      * (R) Reagan 2.1
      * (R) Coolidge 1.1
      * (R) Ford 1.1
      * (R) Eisenhower 0.9
      * (R) G. Bush 0.6
      * (R) G.W. Bush -1.2
      * (R) Hoover -9.0

      • KevenSeven says:

        What number is that? Is that a percentage? Or is it millions of individuals?

      • nellie says:

        I love that Carter is #3, and yet he is always faulted for a bad economy.

        • dgraz says:

          Carter had some problems not of his own making. He created a great many jobs and would have created more if the economy did not slide into a recession due to the oil embargo.
          On the chart his four years are represented by a V showing the drop then a recovery and job growth.

          Jobs were decreasing at a good pace when Reagan took over.

        • KQuark says:

          If we had listened to Carter and invested in weening ourselves off of foreign fossil fuels back then we would be in a much better place. When Obama said people should fully inflate their tires for better fuel economy and the GOP laughed at it, that was so reminiscent of the way Americans reacted when Carter promoted conservation.

    • kesmarn says:

      Interesting point, nellie…and one that again raises the eternal question: “What makes people start to vote against their own best interests? If it’s working, why change it? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

  4. javaz says:

    Does anyone else know that if you click on the graphic in an article that it comes in larger?
    I just clicked on the graph above and it comes in super-sized, but then clicked on view and zoomed out 4X and then could see the chart clearly.
    I never knew that!

    Anyway, I wonder what does drive elections then, if it’s not jobs or the economy.
    I do recall the Republicans taking control during Clinton because of the Savings and Loan scandal and the Keating 5.
    Funny thing about that Keating 5, being McCain was deeply entrenched with that, yet McCain’s reputation remained unscathed.

    • nellie says:

      Thanks, javaz. I added a note to the chart. Good catch!

    • Tiger99 says:

      Thanks for the info!!! I thought your better half might be interested in these stats…
      “No Republican President — not Eisenhower, not Nixon, not Reagan, not Bush — has ever created more jobs, or created jobs at a faster rate, than his Democratic predecessor.”

      Millions of Jobs Added
      Truman 1949 -1952 5.2
      Eisenhower 1953 -- 1956 2.7
      Eisenhower 1957 -- 1960 0.8
      Kennedy/Johnson 1961 -- 1964 5.7
      Johnson 1965 -- 1968 9.8
      Nixon 1969 -- 1972 6.1
      Nixon/Ford 1972 -- 1976 5.2
      Carter 1977 -- 1980 10.4
      Reagan 1981 -- 1984 5.2
      Reagan 1985 -- 1988 10.8
      Bush 1989 -- 1992 2.5
      Clinton 1993 -- 1996 11.6
      Clinton 1997 -- 2000 11.5
      Bush 2001 -- 2004 (0.1)
      Bush 2005 -- 2008 5.1

      • KQuark says:

        Great stats. It corroborates the stats I just added as well.

      • javaz says:

        Yup, your figures seem to follow the curve.
        I’m trying to think of the jobs created under Reagan.
        I tried finding the actual jobs that were created during that time era, but have had no luck so far.

        (and the better half has gone-fishin’, leaving me to laundry, dusting and scrubbing bathrooms!)

  5. BigDogMom says:

    Welcome degraz, great article and stats! 😆

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    Dgraz, this is so interesting! Thanks for putting this together, it’s very helpful. What i get from this is that unless unemployment is abouve something like 8%, it really has no bearing on presidential elections, right? I think that it’s not so much the actual numbers (as the official unemployment numbers are not a true reflection of unemployment-- only of those getting unemployment insurance)but more a reflection of the Misery Index. The misery index is found by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. To me, it’s not so much what is happening in reality as much as it is a feeling of insecurity or even a feeling of going backwards that voters have, and maybe that’s affects the way they vote.

    The irony is, voters hold onto a firmly held myth that Republicans are better for the economy, but the stats don’t bear that out-- the economy always performs better under the Dems.

    • dgraz says:

      In my opinion, what drives the economy more than anything is the federal reserve’s interest rate policy, which is supposed to be non-political.
      There have been too many times in the past where the federal reserve raised interest rates too fast, throwing the economy into a recession.
      Conversely, they’ve kept interest rates too low a number of times, causing inflationary bubbles, ie. the housing bubble.
      It’s a tricky tightrope they have to balance.
      To me, neither political party has as much pull as the federal reserve.

  7. Tiger99 says:

    Very informative article… Thanks for taking the time to put all this together… It is going to be an interesting election year to say the least…

  8. kesmarn says:

    Dgraz, I just made the connection, I think. You’re j’avaz’s husband, right? What a GREAT debut on the Planet! This is such a fine piece of research.

    It demonstrates something that I think could not have been proven in any other way but the scientific way in which you did it: namely, that unemployment is apparently not the critical deciding factor in determining whether political power shifts hands from one party to the other.

    Who would have thought that? You would expect there would be a direct correlation. I have to wonder what other factors play in…people’s feelings about national security? cultural influences? the basic human craving for change-for-the-sake-of-change?

    This topic opens up a lot of areas for further questioning and examination.
    Thanks so much for posting!

    • dgraz says:

      Your comment and other peoples got me thinking how a political strategist might use this as a tool. If you overlay other events in history over the time line, it would give you clues as to what might have drove people to vote one way or the other.

      An example would be during President Carter’s term, overlay the oil embargo. It really is what caused the economy to tank. As a person who had to sit in long gas lines you might think it was time for a change and vote for someone else.

      I would be curious to what were the events leading up to the Republican revolution where they took both house of congress and held the Presidency for 2 terms. My wife said that one of the events was the savings and loan failures. This was banking crisis we did not learn from. Guess I will have to research that.

      • kesmarn says:

        dgraz, I agree, those long lines of folks waiting to buy gas certainly hurt Carter. (A president who, I think, has been very much under-appreciated. A realist, who had the courage to tell people things they didn’t necessarily want to hear.)

        And I think j’avaz has a point about the S & L failures and their effect on pushing people (oddly) to the Repubs. I would also be inclined to take a look at the rise of the religious right and other cultural factors. There seemed to be an almost generational backlash against liberal values, starting around 1980. (“Okay, Dad, you were a hippy? Well, guess what? I’M voting for Reagan! Take that.) Liberal values started to be viewed as passe and even naive. (Sigh…it’s not as though they were invented in 1967. They’re kind of timeless…?) It was downhill after that, until Obama’s election, IMHO.

    • dgraz says:

      Thanks for the compliment. I think a great deal of reporters just speculate on things instead of doing the work to check their facts. Yes javaz is my lovely wife!

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