The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
November 14, 2012

Unemployment and the Presidential Election

November 14, 2012

During much of the presidential election campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney talked about the Obama administration’s failure to get unemployment back below the 8 percent mark. That theme stalled briefly in October, when the previous month’s 7.8 percent unemployment rate was announced. But for voters in many of the top 100 metros, Romney’s argument might not have rung true even earlier. Because by October, when the September unemployment figures were announced, unemployment was already below 8 percent and employment was growing in many states, especially in the battleground states that the two candidates were fighting so hard to win.

In four of the six battleground states, unemployment was well below 8 percent, and in the other two, (Colorado and Florida) employment was growing even though unemployment was still high.

In North Carolina and Arizona, both deemed by the New York Times to be “leaning red” (and, indeed, voted red), unemployment was well above the critical mark. The leaning blue (and voting blue) states are more of a mixed bag. In Minnesota and New Mexico, unemployment rates were below 8 percent, but unemployment was high in Pennsylvania and way above 8 percent in Michigan and Nevada.

Thirty-nine of the 100 top metros are in 13 states that aren’t solidly red or blue. And these metros present an even more interesting picture. In Ohio, for example, the unemployment rates were significantly below the national average in five of the seven top metros and employment was increasing in most of them.

In three states where the unemployment rate remained at 8 percent or above (Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania), some of their major metros were below the national average, including Denver (7.4), Grand Rapids (6.0), Lansing (6.2), and Pittsburgh (6.7). This does not appear to be an artifact of a shrinking labor force; the number of net new jobs appears to be increasing in those locales.

The fact that three of the “voting blue” states had high unemployment rates shows that gauging voting preferences solely by the official unemployment rate is too simple. The overall picture in these swing states would suggest that campaign ads about a stagnant economy did not trump the labor market reality that was closest to the voters.

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