Jonathan Cohn

Good Political News for President Obama on Job Numbers?

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Is there good political news for President Obama in the unemployment numbers? The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza thinks so. Citing an analysis from Republican strategist Matt McDonald, he notes that the unemployment rate in only four swing states was higher than the national average. The four states are hardly inconsequential: They are Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Nevada. And they account for 66 electoral votes. But that's still less than the 116 electoral votes in swing states with unemployment rates lower than the national average:

That means Obama could lose all four states where unemployment is above the national average and assuming he can retain the other states he won in 2008 still win a relatively comfortable reelection with 299 electoral votes.

Actually, the news may be better than that. The unemployment rate in those four states is high, yes. But it's also falling rapidly. As the Wall Street Journal's Sara Murray showed in an article last week, in all four states the jobless rate has been declining at a time when it's been more or less holding steady nationally. Partly that's a function of just how bad things were in these states; in other words, they were bound to improve. But particularly in Michigan, a state that has benefitted from growth in manufacturing, it also represents actual economic progress.

Of course, none of this changes the fact that economic picture overall is still pretty disappointing. As Ezra Klein notes at his Post blog:

the issue here is that the unemployment rate is really, really high, not that the unemployment rate in the swing states is low. The fact that Iowa’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate is being seen as good news of any sort for the administration is evidence of how bad things are out there.

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