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State Unemployment Rates Aren't Moving The Polls

State economies get a lot of media attention. In Nevada, the state’s sky-high unemployment rate is a must-mention for political analysts, while every article about Virginia or Iowa notes the unusually low unemployment rate. Although political reporters insist on stressing state economic performance, studies have found that state-level unemployment has no relationship to state presidential outcomes. Will history repeat itself? Probably: State unemployment has no relationship to shifts in the battlegrounds since 2008:


As you can see, Obama has lost as much support in Iowa—a state with a 5 percent unemployment rate—as he has in Nevada, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high. Florida was hard hit by the housing bubble and North Carolina’s financial sector was damaged, but Obama seems resilient in both states.

State economic performance could indirectly influence the election. For instance, if housing market remedies became an important issue, the public response could break unevenly depending on the extent that a state was harmed by the housing crisis. A similar phenomenon related to the auto-bailout might be partially responsible for Obama's strength in Ohio. But so long as the economic debate focuses on general remedies to national problems, state economic performance probably won't reshape the electoral map.