Why the Q1 Economic Contraction Matters Politically

Posted: May 29, 2014 3:30 PM

Katie wrote up this news earlier. This Reuters video report summarizes the topline takeaways pretty succinctly:

The cold weather excuse isn't entirely unfounded -- this past winter was especially brutal in many regions of the country. But a robust post-recession recovery should be able to survive a tough season of weather. Furthermore, as Ed Morrissey notes, not every element of the Q1 report was gloomy. AEI's Jim Pethokoukis has been tweeting data points and projections that suggest the US economy will bounce back to some degree in the second quarter. Numerous experts don't expect a second consecutive quarter of negative GDP growth, which is the technical definition of a recession:

In the political realm, though, "not technically a recession" isn't exactly a winner. Even if US GDP hits three percent growth for the remainder of the year, the overall number will be dragged down by the terrible first quarter. It's hard to create enough jobs to keep pace with population growth in the midst of a tepid recovery. Plus, not every economist is buying the notion that a relatively strong and sustainable April-through-December expansion is guaranteed:

The trouble has been that as the Obama recovery has limped along, every ray of sunshine seems to be coupled with a dark cloud floating nearby. Look no further than last month's jobs numbers, which looked quite promising on the surface, but came with a major, distressing caveat. That's why Gallup's latest economic confidence measure remained flat and underwater (40/55) -- with a majority of Americans expressing the belief that the economy is getting worse, not better. Those results came out before today's spate of headlines about the Q1 contraction. So it's that prevailing sense of fragility -- be it weak improvement, stagnation, or decay -- that continues to hold down the president's approval ratings on economic issues. Let's revisit this week's Associated Press poll of adults, a pool that is typically more favorable to Obama than registered or likely voters:

Historically, the president's standing is an important factor ahead of a midterm election. If that trend holds, 2014 could be a very painful year for Democrats.