Understanding Obama’s Poll Numbers (Continued)—David Frum

Do Obama’s voters think the economy has improved?

Scott Olson

This is Part 2 in a series. Click here for Part 1.

Given the tendency of partisanship to shape perceptions, the big question for President Obama is this:

Will accelerating improvement in the economy translate into perceived improvement among those voters the president most needs to reach?

Here’s a data point that may have some bearing, a survey of job creation by metro area in 2011.

Among the outstanding performers:

Metro Pittsburgh (up 27.5% year over year November 2010-November 2011)Metro Nashville (up 27.4%)Metro Grand Rapids (up 22.5%)Metro Indianapolis (up 21%)Metro Detroit (up 18.9%)Metro Kansas City, MO (up 18.8%)West Palm Beach Florida (up 18.4%)

There were also big job gains in Salt Lake City (the job leader), Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth—but let me focus on the selected cities for a minute.

These are areas where the Democratic party tends to be strong normally, but is facing demoralization and demobilization in the face of lagging economic results. The president’s challenge in those places is not to change minds but to reactivate a disappointed coalition. These are the people most likely to accept a perception of improvement.

Does surging job creation generate such a perception? Remember, the overall situation remains very bad. What has happened is that the ratio of job seekers to job openings—which hit a worst-ever-in-recorded-history nadir of 5.5:1 in the spring of 2009—has now relaxed to 3:1—or about the same ratio as during the severe recession of 1981-82. How do job seekers experience that kind of change? A lot will hinge on that answer.

NB—I’m writing this post from New York City, one of the metro areas that has done least well according to this metro jobs report, actually down 12.5% between November 2010 and November 2011. Yesterday morning, walking to a breakfast meeting along East 57th Street, I passed a queue of 15 people waiting, resumes in hand, for job interviews at the big Nike store. I doubt they were hiring 15 sales assistants. The jobseekers—mostly under 30, mostly minority—looked like natural Obama voters. And they also looked cold, weary, and frustrated.