The State of the Economy...and the Presidential Election

N. Carolina. Political lore has it that people vote their wallets; in large part, they choose a leadership team based on their immediate sense of economic well-being and confidence about the future. Peace and prosperity tend to favor an incumbent, while a distressed economy can spell trouble for a candidate's reelection bid. What follows are snapshots of the economic conditions in the 10 states with the most votes in the Electoral College, which elects the president and vice president.

North Carolina is by far the healthiest economy of the 10 largest electoral states, according to James F. Smith, a finance professor at the University of North Carolina who does national economic forecasting.

The state is 2.5 percent of the national economy, yet accounted for 15 percent of the new jobs created in the past year. Even IBM, in the throes of massive layoffs around the country, is adding workers here.

That has not translated into greater economic optimism here, however.

"I think people have their attitudes colored by the national media as much as their own outlook," says Dr. Smith.

Unemployment is lower in North Carolina than in the nation as a whole, but like the national rate it has risen slightly in the first half of this year - from 5.7 percent in January to 6.5 percent in June. The reason for the rise, however, is primarily new people joining the work force.

North Carolina, unlike the nation, has a positive trade balance with the rest of the world.

The state gave a heavier-than-average 58 percent of its vote to George Bush in 1988.

John Shelton Reed, a University of North Carolina sociologist who helps run the Carolina Poll, says, "Chances are pretty unlikely we'll go for anybody other than George Bush."

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