As President Obama pitches solutions for the nation’s economic woes on his swing state-loaded bus tour, national unemployment numbers present a steep challenge for his 2012 election prospects. And with a Ronald Reagan-like economic recovery looking less and less likely, Obama’s electoral fate may lie in how bad the economy feels in key states come November, 2012.
The jobless rate is lowest in states in which Obama needs the least help - those he won by 10 points or more over John McCain (R.-Az.) -- while it’s higher in states decided by 10 points or less in 2008.
Obama’s approval rating in those states is at a tenuous 43 percent in Washington Post polls this summer, down 11 points since the beginning of the year and a far cry from the 60 percent-plus heights he enjoyed in swing states during his first six months in office.
There’s some slightly less bad news for Obama - the trends are heading in his direction. The unemployment rate fell from 9.8 to 9.0 percent in swing states from June 2010 to June 2011 (twice the drop in the national rate). And it plummeted in Ohio and Indiana, two states Obama won by less than five points over McCain.
The story is quite different in Florida and North Carolina. While the job situation has improved in both states since 2010, more than 10 percent are unemployed in the sunshine state and 9.9 percent are jobless in North Carolina.
To this point there is little correlation between falling jobless rates and Obama’s approval rating in swing states. Among these four key states, his approval rating has been lowest over the first half of the year in Indiana (42 percent), the state with the lowest unemployment rate and the most improvement among these key states.
There could be many reasons for Obama’s low ratings in Indiana, but it also might be that 8 percent unemployment feels bad no matter what it was last year. There lies another challenge Obama will face next year - convincing Americans that despite presiding over a very weak economy, he’s the man to turn it around.