"People only gradually revise their perceptions. They look for a sustained pattern of activity in their experience," says Schier.
That means that the next jobs report won't make or break the election, but a positive report could combine with recent reports showing an improving trend to further convince voters that the economy is on the mend. Likewise, a negative report could reinforce perceptions of a weak recovery.
Longer-term trends matter not only from a voter perspective but from an economic perspective, says Jim Diffley, managing director of the U.S. Regional Economic Group at forecasting firm IHS Global Insight. The number of jobs that the economy adds in any given month is "always something that bounces around. We've always known that. We always say, 'Never take one month completely seriously,'" says Diffley.
In other words, a 0.2-point decline in Ohio's September unemployment rate may not mean much. But if the state's voters perceive further improvement this month, it could inch the Obama team closer to a win there and on to re-election.
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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter @titonka or via E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.