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Friday Roundup: It’s Economy + Personality, Stupid!

Obama Vs Romney.

Obama Vs Romney. Photo Courtsesy Malwack, CC BY-SA.

Today, the Bureau of Labor statistics released its monthly jobs report, which is the last report before the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are held later this month and in early September. As in June, July brought mixed results. One the one hand, payroll employment increased by 163,000, a promising rise after three straight months of disappointing job gains. On the other hand, unemployment ticked up slightly, from 8.2% to 8.3%. Romney reacted to the unemployment in a statement calling it a “hammer blow to struggling middle-class families.” Focusing on the positive aspects of the report, Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement on the White House blog:

While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression.

So, with less than 100 days until the election, just how important is this jobs report for the presidential race? First, we know from a Gallup Poll released this week that voters rate job creation as the number one priority for the next president to address. However, given the last few reports, it seems unlikely that future jobs reports leading up to the election will show any dramatic change. In electoral terms, it may disadvantage President Obama. However, Romney’s campaign has so far been unable to capitalize on the stagnant economic performance. Even though voters believe that Romney would be a better manager of the economy, personal image is playing an important role in this election. According to a new Pew Research Center poll out this week, 52% of voters say they have an unfavorable view of Mitt Romney while only 37% hold a favorable view (and this poll was conducted before Romney’s overseas trip). Meanwhile the poll finds that 50% of voters hold a favorable view of President Obama and 45% an unfavorable one. (This also comports with the Real Clear Politics 6/15-7/26 average that finds voters have a favorability rating of Obama by a margin of 49.4% to 45.8%.) Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to economic indicators, as well as to job approval and favorability ratings leading up to the election.

Because the campaigns are primarily being waged in the battleground states, we might look there to get a better sense of the candidate prospects, rather than just relying on the national averages. I consulted Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which yesterday released an updated electoral map. The table presented below compares the unemployment rates in key states noted on the map (June 2012 rates are most recent available at the state level) with the most recent Gallup Poll January-June 2012 presidential approval ratings released this week. For comparison, the July jobs report shows a national unemployment rate average of 8.3% and Obama’s national job approval rating in the last week at 47%. For historical comparison, since World War II, only two incumbent presidents with approval ratings less than 50% – Harry Truman and George W. Bush – won reelection.

Of the six toss-up states, only Florida and Nevada have an unemployment rate above the national average, and in both states, the rate of voter presidential approval is slightly lower than the national average (one and two percent below, respectively). Of the three states that lean Democrat, Michigan’s unemployment is the only one above the national average (by .3%), but Michigan voters approval rate of the president is also three percent higher than the national average. North Carolina, which leans Republican, has an unemployment rate above the national average and Obama’s job approval rating is below the national average. Furthermore, the aforementioned Pew Research poll (which unfortunately doesn’t break down its data by state) shows that across 12 of the key battleground states, Obama holds a four-point edge (48% to 44%) in terms of favorability.



June 2012 Unemployment

Obama Job Approval










New Hampshire












Leans Democrat















Leans Republican



North Carolina




The numbers from key battleground states suggest a slight advantage for President Obama, but still a sharply contested race in which economy and personality matter. As we head into the last leg of the campaign, we should continue to watch unemployment, job approval and candidate favorability rates in the key battleground states. They may be just as important indicators as the national averages, if not more so.


Date edited: 09/28/2012 (3:27PM)


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