The Washington Post

In swing states, economic picture a little brighter for Obama

Reporter

Nationally, the economic picture is decidedly dismal — a sullen state of affairs that has led many political observers to conclude that President Obama is an underdog in his bid for a second term.

But in the 12 (or so) swing states — where Democrats and Republicans will spend the lion’s share of their time and money in the 100 or so days between now and Nov. 6 — the economic picture is considerably sunnier.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House. View Archive

In seven of those 12 states — Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin — the unemployment rate is below the June national average of 8.2 percent. In some, it is considerably less than the national average; the June rates in New Hampshire, Iowa and Virginia were below 6 percent. Even in Ohio, a state hit hard by the collapse of the manufacturing sector, the unemployment rate is a full percentage point below the U.S. average. Republicans note that the unemployment rate rose between May and June in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia, among other swing states.

In the four swing states where the rate is above the national average — Florida, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina — the trend line is headed downward. Nevada’s June unemployment rate was an eye-popping 11.6 percent, but that was down from 13.8 percent in June 2011. Ditto Florida (10.7 percent in June 2011, 8.6 percent now), Michigan (10.6 percent in 2011, 8.6 percent now) and North Carolina (10.6 percent in 2011, 9.4 percent now).

Viewed even more narrowly, of the eight states that the Fix considers the truest swing states this fall — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin — the unemployment rate is below the U.S. average in five, above it in two and right at the national number in one (Colorado).

If you allocated the electoral votes of those eight swing states solely based on the unemployment rate in each — giving the states with rates below the national average to Obama and those above it to Republican challenger Mitt Romney — the incumbent would claim 51 electoral votes, compared with 35 for Romney. Colorado and its nine electoral votes would be a push.

Add that total to the states already solidly behind or leaning toward each candidate on the Fix electoral map and Obama takes 288 electoral votes, more than the 270 he needs to win.

Now, simply assigning states to one of the two candidates based on the unemployment rate alone is a too-blunt measure. After all, the candidates — and the campaigns they run — matter.

But the state-by-state unemployment numbers are a reminder that the 2012 election — like all presidential contests — is a national election in name only. That is, although the U.S. unemployment rate matters as a broad thematic, the rates in the eight to 12 swing states may well be more telling indicators of whether Obama can sell voters on his plans for the economy. That handful of states is where the election will be decided; the unemployment rates in places such as California (10.7 percent in June) and North Dakota (2.9 percent) are, essentially, meaningless.

Even in the places where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average — particularly Florida — the downward trend line could (and we emphasize “could”) allow the incumbent to convince undecided voters that things are slowly but surely getting better.

On the other hand — and, yes, in politics there is always another hand — the highest the national unemployment rate has ever been when a president has won reelection is 7.2 percent, for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Of the 12 swing(ish) states, six had rates above 7.2 percent, while a seventh — Ohio — had exactly that 7.2 percent rate.

Make no mistake: The weak national economy has badly imperiled Obama’s chances of winning a second term in November. But the economic story in the swing states is slightly better for the incumbent, giving him and his team a glimmer of hope as they work to win in the fall.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debate Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is on Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Heading into the next debate...
Donald Trump returns to the Republican presidential debate stage Saturday night. Marco Rubio arrives as a sudden star, but fending off ferocious attacks from his rivals. Still glowing from his Iowa victory, Ted Cruz is trying to consolidate conservative support, while Ben Carson is struggling to avoid being typecast as the dead man walking.
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
56% 36%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 6: GOP debate

on ABC News, in Manchester, N.H.

Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.