[B]ecause [President Obama] has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions, distractions, and distortions. That kind of campaign may have worked at another place and in a different time. But not here and not now. It’s still about the economy” — here he paused for effect — “and we’re not stupid.”James Carville, who coined that hippest campaign slogan of them all "It's the economy, stupid!" for Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential race, oddly yet somehow appropriately accused Romney of "stealing" his line. (For a man who is a walking caricature of a campaign strategist, one would think he would appreciate a good send up rather then reacting with foot-stamping petulance.) But Romney was simply acknowledging the undisputed role that the economy plays in most elections, particularly presidential ones. This year is no different, and the depths of the country's economic woes may have already sealed the fate of the Obama administration.
For this reason, the weekly unemployment figures and monthly unemployment reports are two of the most closely watched economic bellweathers. The jobs numbers are the public's most accessible proxies for the nation's overall economic health. President Obama is well aware of the fact that as the New York Times reported in 2011, "No American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has won a second term in office when the unemployment rate on Election Day topped 7.2 percent." As of this March, the rate stood at 8.2%, and few would make the case that the rate will drop more than a percentage point by election day. Even the President himself in December was less than confident that the rate would even break 8% by then.
What then is President Obama's economic silver lining? A look at the state-by-state unemployment numbers over the past three years suggests ironically enough that the silver lining may be Republicans. My analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment reports for 2009 and 2012 and the current political party makeup of state governments plus the District of Columbia (raw data here) yields rather lopsided results. (For purposes of my analysis, "control" is based on a party holding at least two out of three of the following: governorship, upper legislative house, and lower legislative house. "Complete control" means holding all three.)
- 9 of the 10 states with the lowest current unemployment rates are under Republican control, including six under complete Republican control, one of which is North Dakota with the lowest rate of 3%
- 5 of the 10 states with highest current unemployment rates are under Democratic control, and the four worst are all under Democratic control, one of which is Nevada with the highest rate of 12%
- 8 of the 10 states with the greatest improvement from 2009 to 2012 are under Republican control (and 7 of those are under complete Republican control)
- 7 of the 10 states with the worst performance from 2009 to 2012 are under Democratic control
- 10 of 17 states with current unemployment rates greater than the national average are under Democratic control
- The state with the greatest improvement from 2009 to 2012 (36%) is Michigan, under Republican control
- The two states with the worst performances from 2009 to 2012, Louisiana and Idaho (the rates actually went up,) are under Republican control, but their current rates are still less than the national rate of 8.2%
- States under Democratic control saw an average decrease of 7.7% in the rate of unemployment
- States under Republican control saw an average decrease of 15.3% in the rate of unemployment, virtually double the improvement of states under Democratic control
Republicans find themselves in the position of helping the President nationally by virtue of economic and fiscal policies implemented at the state level, but what may seem a political handicap on the surface can be turned to the Republicans advantage. The challenge will be making the case to the American people that a Mitt Romney administration will work in tandem with Republicans at the state level rather than erecting obstacles in their path as the Obama administration has done for the past three years. Given the Obama team's dismal record and discredited economic theories, it should not be a hard sell.