Not to pick on Goldy since you can see the same sort of stats everywhere. But the No President Since FDR Has Won Reelection with Unemployment Above 7.2 Percent stat has always bugged me. So let’s break it down.
There have only been 3 presidents who lost reelection since FDR. Ford, Carter, and G H W Bush. In all three of those elections the unemployment rate was above 7.2 (in the first Bush’s case it was 7.3, and in the other cases it was lower than it is now, but higher than that, you can get the historical data here). I bet in at least 2 of FDR’s reelection victories, unemployment was well above that. So it’s only 3 for 5.
Really, what people are saying is the last 3 times the unemployment rate was above 7.2, presidents lost their reelection bids. Well, there are plenty of streaks in politics that are larger than 3 that probably don’t mean a whole lot.
Of course there’s an implied corollary: that presidents won when it was below 7.2. All right. That gives us Truman, Ike, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and W Bush. That brings the streak up to a more respectable 9, if you’re willing to read more into what people are saying than they actually say. Still, I can’t imagine going up to too many political scientists and saying you have 9 data points (or actually more than 9, but don’t look back further than that) and having them take you seriously.
A 9 game winning streak doesn’t guarantee a win in the next match. That doesn’t mean the unemployment rate doesn’t matter. People who are unemployed, and people with unemployed friends and family, are going to vote based on that.
It’s not controversial to say high unemployment is probably a hindrance to a presidential reelection bid. But there are way too many other factors to assume that 7.2 is a magic number.