Larry J. Sabato tweaks the common wisdom about unemployment and presidential elections a bit in his post “Unemployment and Potus 2012: Another Look.” Sabato presents the August unemployment rates for all 50 states in a color-coded by political-leanings chart and offers a provocative analysis:
Barring a massive GOP landslide, does anyone really believe California (12.1%) or Rhode Island (10.6%) will vote Republican? Yet their unemployment rates are in the top eight.
The list of Republican states with relatively low unemployment rates (under 7%) is longer: Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming. If you believe a single one of these states will be won by President Obama, you’re a Democrat in contention for the Optimists Club’s person-of-the-year.
Yes, there are states where the unemployment rate can help or hurt President Obama: The swing states where arguments on the economy may well sway independent voters. Low unemployment in places such as Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia could give the Democrats a boost. On the other hand, high unemployment in Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina could add to Obama’s troubles as he seeks a return victory in those three states. Any Republican nominee is going to make hay out of their high unemployment numbers every time he or she sets foot there.
And note Ohio: The ultimate swing state is the only state in the Union that has the same unemployment rate (9.1%) as the national average.
So, as usual, a sweeping generalization can’t take into account the complexity of American politics. The unemployment rate will be part of the debate in fall 2012, but the more nuanced state data will be more influential — though not determinative — in shaping the outcome.
Sabato makes an important point that the unemployment rate is not always the primary determinant of electoral choice of different states’ voters, in August at least. And it will be interesting to see state by state unemployment-electoral vote correlations after the election. That’s not to say that high unemployment is not an important factor in electoral choice; “It’s just not the alpha and the omega of an election,” as Sabato says.