Political analysts also wonder whether voters will end up holding Obama responsible for the poor state of the housing market, even if the job market has improved.
Jonathan Ketcham, a marketing professor at Arizona State University who has analyzed voting behavior, says academic studies haven't investigated how housing trends affect voters' decisions. Housing hasn't been a major issue in a presidential campaign before. But since 2006, a drop in home prices has wiped out $7 trillion in home equity, the biggest source of wealth for most families.
In Nevada, more than six in 10 homes are "underwater" — they're worth less than the mortgages on them.
In February, foreclosures surged more in Florida's two biggest cities — Miami and Tampa — from February 2011 than anywhere else, according to RealtyTrac. Foreclosures are up partly because they were delayed last year by a legal fight over lenders that processed foreclosures without verifying documents.
Now, foreclosures are rising again in places like Florida where the housing bust did the most damage. That is worrisome for Obama, whose housing policies haven't made much of a dent in the crisis, says Susan MacManus, a government professor at the University of South Florida.
Then again, state economic trends might not even make much difference. Political scientists who study voter behavior say most Americans tend to base their views about the economy — and their votes — more on what's happening nationwide than on what's happening closer to home.
The academic findings might seem to defy common sense. But reports on the ups and downs of unemployment, gross domestic product and other nationwide economic indicators appear constantly on television news, in newspapers and on the Internet.
So in some ways, ordinary Americans hear more about the national economy than they hear about economic conditions in their own communities, says Arizona State's Ketcham. Ketcham also says it "could be that people simply understand that local conditions are beyond the reach of national politicians."
The national economic trend favors Obama, too. Unemployment is down significantly from its 10 percent peak in October 2009. No incumbent president dating to 1956 has lost when unemployment fell over the two years leading up to his re-election contest. And none has won when the rate rose.
Unemployment was 9.8 percent in November 2010.
Last month, eight months before Election Day, the rate was 8.2 percent.
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