Battleground Economies

We all talk a lot about the implications of unemployment rates, new jobs, GDP growth, etc., on the 2012 presidential race. But as Ezra Klein reminds us today, you get elected by winning individual states, and there are a wide variety of economies in different parts of the country:

The five largest swing states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina — control more than a third of the electoral votes necessary to win the presidency. In December, they had a collective unemployment rate of more than 9 percent, half a percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate. (State-by- state numbers for January haven’t been released yet.)

Similarly, an analysis conducted in January by the Progressive Policy Institute looked at the housing market in 16 battleground states (adding Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota and Missouri to Gallup’s list). It found that since October 2008, battleground states have experienced an average drop in home prices of 16 percent. In three states — Florida, Arizona and Nevada — the drop was more than 30 percent. Nationally, the drop has been 11 percent.

Ezra goes on to point out that trends rather than absolute economic conditions tend to matter most politically, so voters in states making up ground later this year might be in a better mood than the raw numbers would indicate. But it’s certainly important to remember that the idea of a “national economy” is a bit artificial, and you’re not going to get excited about a good national jobs report if you’re unemployed in Florida with a mortgage as underwater as the Everglades.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.