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

New Jersey. 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.

"When it comes to the economy, there's just not much happening right now in New Jersey," says Rosemary Scanlon, chief economist for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"Unemployment is up and the job picture is not improving; the office [rental] market is not yet moving; residential housing, which did respond quickly to interest rate cuts a year ago, is not doing much."

For President Bush and the Republican Party, current economic doldrums in the Garden State cannot be good news, says Janice Ballou, director of the (Newark, N.J.) Star Ledger/Eagleton Poll.

Polling "has consistently shown that incumbents do not fare well" when there is a recession or a feeling of deep economic downturn, says Ms. Ballou. And the latest poll, released in May, shows that the economy has now replaced other issues as the main concern among voters.

Moreover, polling found that 4 out of 10 households in New Jersey have been affected by job layoffs during the past year - a high percentage for a state that throughout much of the 1980s was considered a "go-go" region in terms of economic growth.

Bush carried New Jersey in 1988. But the White House has cause for concern: most experts now see the race here as a tossup, given economic concerns.

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