Swing state voters don’t see U.S. economy rebounding

August 16, 2012

Despite some positive economic signs in a handful of key presidential swing states, voters in those states don't see the U.S. economy being much better than the rest of the country, according to a new Gallup poll.

There has been a storyline bubbling beneath the surface this election year -- The Fix boss wrote on it a couple weeks back -- that despite the continued economic hardship in this country, there are signs of progress in a handful of swing states that could, in turn, perform better for President Obama than national polls suggest. The unemployment rate, for example, is either below the national average or trending downward in all eight states rated as swing states by The Fix.

But despite the positive signs in some of those states (and some nationally as well), Gallup polling shows views of the U.S. economy in swing states are pretty much on-par with the rest of the country.

In every state except Minnesota, more voters see the U.S. economy getting worse than see it getting better, and only in North Dakota do more than 20 percent of people see the economy as "excellent" or "good." Neither are considered swing states.

Among the swing states, just two rank in the top 10 when it comes to economic confidence -- a measure that combines current views of the U.S. economy and views of its direction (getting better vs. getting worse): Iowa at No. 5 and Virginia at No. 10.

Half of The Fix's eight presidential swing states rank 20th or below on the list. And those four states account for well more than half -- 57 -- of the 95 electoral votes available in the swing states.

If you average out all the swing states, they rank 21st out of 50 states -- pretty close to the middle. When you throw in two of the most competitive blue-leaning states (Michigan and Pennsylvania) and two of the most competitive red-leaning states (Arizona and North Carolina), the average falls to 22nd.

Now, it's true that views of the economy may be slightly better in these states than in the country nationally, but with the exception of Iowa and Virginia, the difference is pretty minimal right now.

What's more, swing state Nevada has among the worst views of the economy (No. 43) and the swing state with the most electoral votes at stake -- Florida -- ranks in the bottom one-third of states in economic confidence.

An important caveat: Poll respondents were asked about their views of the U.S. economy -- not their states' economies. And voters in states that are succeeding more than others may be more confident in their own economy than in the country's economy.

(Indeed, an automated Purple Strategies poll released Wednesday showed more voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania saw the U.S. economy getting worse than saw their state's economy getting worse.)

The question from there is whether that distinction is significant enough to change their opinion about electing a president who presides over the entire country's economy.

We're guessing such a distinction would have more impact on state races, like governor's contests, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Elections are won on the margins in these swing states, and if in Ohio -- where according to the Purple Strategies poll more see their economy getting better (33 percent) than getting worse (26 percent) -- that distinction matters to people's votes, it could help Obama.

On the whole, though, it's clear that views of the U.S. economy remain very dim and possibly getting dimmer. A new Bloomberg poll Thursday shows that views of the economy are worse than they have been since January, with 45 percent of Americans seeing the economy getting worse.

And at least when it comes to views of the national economy, that applies pretty equally to swing states.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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