If history is any indication, the next set of economic numbers—set for release in early July—will be critical for President Obama’s reelection bid.  

Earlier this month, Democrats were rattled by the latest jobs report: just 69,000 new jobs were created in May and the unemployment rate ticked up slightly from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent. If the pattern doesn’t break next month, Obama would be just the third president since 1980 to see the unemployment rate rise between March and June in a reelection year.

According to historical data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, both Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush saw an increase in unemployment over the same period in 1980 and 1992, respectively. Both went on to lose reelection. On the flip side, every president who has won reelection since 1980 has seen the unemployment rate fall between March and June of their reelection years.

“If the unemployment rate gets higher in June and July, that would not be good for [Obama’s] reelection chances,” says Frank Newport, editor-in-chief at Gallup. “Really though, it is the trajectory in June and July that will be critical and it’s best for Obama if those numbers are down.”  

Newport dismisses the notion that the unemployment rate needs to drop below 8 percent for Obama to win in November. Even a slight improvement, argues Newport, could be a boon to Obama given the current state of the economy.  

The June unemployment rate in the past five presidential reelection years:

  • 2004 (George W. Bush): 5.6%
  • 1996 (Bill Clinton): 5.3%
  • 1992 (George H.W. Bush): 7.8%
  • 1984 (Ronald Reagan): 7.2%
  • 1980 (Jimmy Carter): 7.6%