(WASHINGTON) — The unemployment rate in Rhode Island is 11.2 percent, but that doesn’t matter to either campaign because that blue state is a reliable win for President Obama.
The same goes for Oklahoma, where the unemployment rate is 5 percent — that red state will probably fall into Mitt Romney’s column regardless.
Because the United States still holds elections under the arcane rules of the electoral college, only a handful of states will determine who the next president is. And in those states, the state of the economy is much more important — politically of course — than in the old party standard bearers.
The good news for Obama is that five key swing states have unemployment rates that are below the national average, which is 8.2 percent as of last week. New Hampshire is at 5 percent; Iowa is at 5.1 percent; Virginia is at 5.6; Ohio is at 7.4; and Colorado is at 7.9.
Three swing states, however, have unemployment rates higher than the national average: Florida, with 8.7 percent; North Carolina, with 9.4 percent; and Nevada, with 11.7 percent — the highest in the country.
But in the states at the high end of unemployment, a downward trend could work in Obama’s favor.
Nevada has the steepest curve downward. In August, its unemployment rate was 13.8 percent, more than two points higher than what it is now. The difference between then and now is one of the biggest in the country and suggests the line could continue to drop. Between January and February, for example, Nevada’s unemployment rate shrunk from 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent.
Florida, too, has seen a lowering of its unemployment rate since August, when the number there was 10.5 percent. Between February and March, the number dropped from 9.4 percent to 9 percent, and is now at 8.7 percent.
And in North Carolina, a 10.4 percent rate in December shrunk to 9.9 percent by February, and is now at 9.4 percent.
The unemployment rate isn’t a completely accurate picture of the number of people who have jobs. For whatever reason, the government doesn’t count unemployed people who have stopped looking for work, which means the unemployment rate could be artificially low. However, in a campaign about economic perception, those details might not matter so much as long as the numbers are in headlines.
The other question, of course, is who deserves credit for lowering unemployment. Obama has tried his best to portray himself as the overseer of mass job creation, while Republican governors would rather give themselves credit. Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, for instance, has said that he’s creating a business-friendly environment in his state by opposing business regulations.
GOP governors have noted happily, though, that their states are recovering. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said at the beginning of the year that “Florida got to work, and each Floridian deserves the credit.” And Nevada’s Brian Sandoval boasted in December that “Nevada is on the move again” and that “we are seeing signs, some large, some small, of economic improvement.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chris Isidore, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
David Goldman, CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN