In 8 Swing States, the Economy (Barely) Favors Obama

In some of these key electoral states, the economy is performing better than the nation as a whole.

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By most accounts, the November presidential election will come down to the vote count in perhaps half a dozen swing states. So if you're a voter in Ohio or Florida or Colorado, this election is all about you.  

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It's also about the economy, and whether voters feel like things are getting materially better or staying stuck in the doldrums. President Barack Obama's re-election bid is obviously a tough sell, since no president has won a second term in modern times with the unemployment rate above 8 percent, as it is now. His Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, is promising to create 12 million new jobs if elected.

National trends don't necessarily reveal how workers are faring in the swing states, however, so I did some analysis on economic conditions in eight states judged by election expert, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, to be tossups: New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado and Nevada. In addition to factors such as each state's unemployment rate, I used data from economic consulting firm EMSI of Moscow, Idaho to rank job growth, income growth and overall economic performance in each state. I also used swing-state profiles from forecasting firm IHS Global Insight for qualitative insights into voter attitudes.

Four of the eight swing states—New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio and Colorado—seem to be enjoying economic conditions that are significantly better than national averages. In theory, that favors Obama, since voters in those states are likely to feel better off compared to a year or two ago, which is usually good news for an incumbent seeking re-election. If Obama were to win those four states, it would add 44 electoral votes to his tally, just enough to put him over the top if he wins all the other states deemed to be leaning his way. Here's a brief breakdown of how things look in each of the eight swing states:

New Hampshire. Economy favors Obama; 4 electoral votes. Unemployment is a mere 5.4 percent, while income growth and economic performance rank in the top half among states, according to EMSI. That seems like enough to overcome the Granite State's libertarian leanings and swing it Obama's way, which is how New Hampshire voted in 2008.

[See who's better off under President Obama.]

Virginia. Favors Obama; 13 electoral votes. It has a Republican governor, but Virginia has fared relatively well during Obama's presidency. It has low unemployment of 5.9 percent, plus better-than-average income and job growth.

Florida. Favors Romney; 29 electoral votes. It's still stormy in the Sunshine State, which has the highest foreclosure rate in the country and an unemployment rate above the national average. To really recover, Florida needs a rebound in construction, which hasn't happened yet.

Ohio. Favors Obama; 18 electoral votes. "The Ohio economy is on a roll," according to IHS. The auto bailouts helped support the manufacturing base, which has picked up sharply over the last two years. Ohio also has shale-gas deposits, allowing it to tap into the energy boom. Unemployment, at 7.2 percent, is more than a full point below the national average.

Iowa. Favors Romney; 6 electoral votes. Farmers may not blame Obama for the drought that's wrecking their crops, but they may fault him for relatively weak income and job growth. Unemployment is low, but Iowa is one state where sharp cutbacks in government jobs are hitting the broader economy, which bodes poorly for Obama.

[See who's worse off under President Obama.]

Wisconsin. Favors Romney; 10 electoral votes. Unemployment is lower than the national average, but income and job growth have been weak in the Badger State. Plus Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, hails from Janesville and could help flip his home state, which Obama carried in 2008.

Colorado. Favors Obama; 9 electoral votes. The unemployment rate in Colorado is the same as the national average, but there's a tangible pickup in the housing market and the manufacturing industry. Plus there have been fewer public-sector layoffs than in other states, according to IHS.

Nevada. Favors Romney; 6 electoral votes. This "sand state" is still reeling from an extreme housing bust, with a 12 percent unemployment rate that's highest in the nation and an economy that still hasn't stopped shedding jobs, even though the recession officially ended three years ago. Nevadans have mostly ended up worse off under President Obama.

Some swing-state voters could be swayed by factors other than the economy, of course. And with the race extremely close in each of these eight states, a flurry of appearances or a last-minute ad blitz by either candidate could tip the balance his way. But if the economy ends up being the final word, the state of the swing states may be just sound enough for Obama to eke out a win.

Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.