Unemployment rates fall in most swing states. Why that may not help Obama.
Of nine battleground states, unemployment rates dropped in seven and held steady in two, according to the state-by-state report for September. It's good news for Obama, but he may not be able to capitalize on it.
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Mr. Sabato perceives the Obama campaign as having missed opportunities to trumpet the improvement.Skip to next paragraph
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One reason it hasn't may be because rates in some states are still so high. For example, in Nevada at least 1 in 10 people is still out of work. “You can’t really say, 'Gee, things are getting better,' ” he says. “They are just not as horrible as they were.”
In hotly contested Ohio, the unemployment rate is below the national average of 7.8 percent, and the state added about 88,000 jobs in sectors ranging from manufacturing to finance in the past year. Still, it's not something Ohioans hear much about from Obama, Sabato says.
“The Obama campaign does not want to bring up the subject because they reason the more [that] people think about the economy, the more they will vote for Romney,” he says.
In Florida, where the unemployment rate has dropped 1.7 percentage points over the year, the improvement has not helped Obama in the polls.
That is partly because a lot of people are working only part time, or have jobs that pay less money than before the recession, says Susan MacManus, a professor at the University of South Florida. Moreover, the state is still bedeviled by a high rate of home foreclosures, she notes.
“You have to remember that Florida for years was always leading other states out of the recession, but since the last downturn it has been lagging behind,” she says. “There is an impatience factor here.”
Even in states where the unemployment rate is below the national average, the gains have not seemed to help Obama that much. Virginia is leaning toward Romney, though the unemployment rate has fallen 0.4 percentage points in the past year. Job growth in Virginia has come from professional services, education, and leisure and hospitality.
“I live in Virginia, where the unemployment rate is under 6 percent, and the Obama campaign is not using it,” Sabato says. “It’s almost malpractice.”
For most of the other battleground states, improvements in the jobless rate over the past year have been modest. Iowa is down 0.7 percentage points, Wisconsin is down one-tenth of a point, and Colorado is down two-tenths of a point.
Another key state is North Carolina, where unemployment is still a high 9.6 percent. “North Carolina’s recovery continues to be bumpy,” said IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass., in a recent analysis.
“The good news is that the state’s two largest sectors, government and education/health services, have both been generating fairly consistent job growth, and the manufacturing sector appears to be hanging on to its recovery,” said the analysis.
However, the improvement has not helped Obama. According to the latest Politico swing state analysis, the Tar Heel State is leaning toward Romney.
On Nov. 2, the BLS will release the October jobs numbers, the last look at the national unemployment picture before the election. “That can have an impact,” says Sabato.
But during an election year, he adds, a lot of people become suspicious of economic numbers. Last month, Republican commentators howled when the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.
“A lot of people thought the books were cooked,” says Sabato. “I am not one of those. But most people don’t think the jobless rate is 7.8 percent.”