Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The improving economy is swinging the pendulum in President Barack Obama’s favor in the 14 states where the presidential election will likely be decided.
Recent polls have shown Obama gaining an edge over his likely Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, in several so-called swing states – those that are considered up for grabs.
What’s made the difference is that unemployment has dropped more sharply in several swing states than in the nation as a whole.
A resurgence in manufacturing is helping the economy – and Obama’s chances – in the industrial Midwestern states of Ohio and Michigan.
And Arizona, Nevada and Florida, where unemployment remains high, are getting some relief from an uptick in tourism.
“The biggest reason for the president’s improving prospects probably is the economy,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
The Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit several swing states particularly hard. Unemployment peaked at 14.2 percent in Michigan, where the auto industry faced ruin. It also hit double digits in Arizona, Nevada and Florida, which were at the center of the housing bust, and in North Carolina, which lost jobs in textile and furniture plants.
In 2010, the economic misery helped Republicans retake control of the House and gain seats in the Senate. But the GOP can’t count on a repeat when voters return to the polls – with much more at stake – on Nov. 6.
After an agonizingly slow recovery, several swing-state economies are finally accelerating:
The job market is improving in Michigan and Ohio. In Michigan, unemployment fell to 8.5 percent in March from 10.5 percent in March 2011. And in Ohio, it dropped to 7.5 percent from 8.8 percent over the same period, putting it well below the national average of 8.2 percent. A Fox News poll released Friday showed Obama leading Romney 45 percent to 39 percent among registered voters in Ohio.
Many blue-collar workers in Ohio and Michigan credit the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler for saving tens of thousands of auto industry jobs, said Paul Allen Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University.
The bailout began under President George W. Bush, but Obama expanded it.
“There’s a feeling the administration went out of its way to protect jobs that are very important,” Beck said.
In Florida, unemployment tumbled to 9 percent in March from 10.7 percent a year earlier. That was more than twice the nationwide drop of 0.7 percentage point (from 8.9 percent to 8.2 percent) over the same period. A rise in tourism is helping.
“People who put off vacations or a trip to Disney World for two or three years got to the point where they feel safe in terms of financial security to finally take those trips,” said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.
Even Nevada, a focal point of the real-estate collapse, has seen some improvement: Unemployment dropped to 12 percent in March from 13.6 percent a year earlier.
Unemployment is down over the last year in the 10 other states the Associated Press identifies as swing states: Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Still, political analysts caution that voter sentiment – not to mention economic momentum – can turn fast. A month before the most recent polling, for instance, Obama was running behind or neck-and-neck with Romney in battleground states.
A jobs recovery fizzled in mid-2011, so there’s no guarantee the unemployment rate will continue to fall this year.
Indeed, Romney was quick to pounce after the government said job creation plunged in March after three strong months of growth. Romney called the numbers “weak and very troubling.... Millions of Americans are paying a high price for President Obama’s economic policies.”