The Bureau of Labor Statistics released detailed information about the unemployment rate in the states earlier today, and the news is quite good for President Obama.
And, the Midwest, the region widely regarded as the most electorally critical for both Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the average unemployment rate in February was 7.5 percent, the lowest of any of the four regions of the country.
While the unveiling of the national unemployment rate on the first Friday of every month tends to draw the big national headlines, the state-by-state numbers may be of equal import.
Why? Because the presidential election is a national race in name only. In reality, it is a series of state contests. (If you live anywhere outside the 15 or so swing states, you aren’t likely to see television ads, get persuasion phone calls or get snowed under by direct mail appeals. Depending on how you view politics, that could be either a very good or a very bad thing.)
That means that for people living in those 15 swing states, how they feel the economy is doing is likely to be more influenced by the unemployment rate in their particular state than what the national rate might be.
If you live in New Hampshire (5.2 percent unemployment), Iowa (5.3 percent unemployment) or Virginia (5.7 percent), the likely Romney argument that the economy continues to struggle simply won’t resonate all that well.
On the other hand, if you live in places like Nevada (12.3 percent unemployment), North Carolina (9.9 percent) or Florida (9.4 percent), you may well be more open to the idea that Obama hasn’t done enough to make the economy better in his first four years in office.
Looking for the swingiest of the swing states when it comes to the economy and the unemployment rate? Check out Michigan (8.8 percent), Colorado (7.8 percent), Ohio (7.6 percent) and Pennsylvania (7.6 percent) — all of which are within a point of the national average.
The state-by-state unemployment numbers aren’t conclusive and won’t stop Republicans from arguing that the economy would have recovered faster — and more broadly — with a different occupant in the White House.
But remember that the ground on which the election will be fought varies by state. And right now, the state-by-state economic outlook looks better for Obama than the national one.
Swing States Unemployment Rates (as of February 2012)
New Hampshire: 5.2%
New Mexico: 7.2%
North Carolina: 9.9%