[Homestead] Politics, it's still the economy, in the rust belt stupid.
tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 19 17:57:13 EDT 2004
September 19, 2004
Are Some Red States Blue About Jobs?
*By DANIEL ALTMAN*
HOW big of an issue will the economy be on Election Day? Pollsters have
been saying that it's a top concern for undecided voters. That makes
sense, given that people with strong feelings about foreign policy,
civil rights or the candidates' personalities have probably made up
their minds already. But could differences in economic performance among
the states actually determine how the election shakes out?
The answer is a definite maybe. Traditionally, economists have doubted
that a president or his party can dictate the overall path of the
economy. "Most economists assume that the major person who can affect
the business cycles in the economy is Alan Greenspan," said Ray C. Fair,
an economics professor at Yale who has studied economic trends and
elections for decades.
But things may be different at the state level. Economists and political
scientists say that some presidential policies can have a direct and
predictable impact on state economies, at least in the short term.
"In some ways you can actually do more at the local level," said Alan J.
Auerbach, director of the Burch Center for Tax Policy and Public Finance
at the University of California. "An example would be the steel tariffs.
They probably had a negligible impact on the economy as a whole, but
they certainly had an impact on the particular steel mills affected by
Voters sure seem to think that the White House can make a difference. A
look at recent polls and the electoral map suggests that people may hold
the president responsible for their states' economic fate.
Though his recent campaign speeches have focused on terrorism and the
war in Iraq, the president must know that the economy is important to
voters. After all, the economy was the issue that thwarted his father's
re-election bid, and, according to recent polls like the IssuesPA/Pew
survey in Pennsylvania last month, it is also the chief concern of
undecided voters this time.
As a result, the economy could be the determining factor in the
election. So how have the 13 swing states, as classified by The New York
using poll analysis and projections, fared under President Bush? Not
very well. The average increase in the unemployment rate in the swing
states was 1.2 percentage points from January 2001 to August 2004. That
performance was worse than the averages for states that are expected to
back the president and those likely to support Senator John Kerry.
States that are expected to vote Republican, according to The Times's
handicapping, had an increase of 0.8 percentage points in their
unemployment rate, while Democrat-leaning states had an average increase
of 0.9 percentage points.
SO, will those swing states reject the president because of the economy?
Looking at unemployment rates may be only the first step toward an
answer. According to some political scientists, the relationship between
the economy and the casting of electoral votes could involve a complex
combination of local and national forces.
Daron R. Shaw, an associate professor of government at the University of
Texas at Austin, said voters were most likely to be influenced by an
issue when it had surfaced at the national level and begun to resonate
locally. He cited jobs moving abroad as the most recent example on the
"The notion of outsourcing - people say, 'I've seen that,' " Professor
Shaw said. A feeling that the president has done little to deal with
outsourcing abroad, he argued, may have loosened Republicans' hold on
some states that they won in 2000. "The people who were most at risk
over the last four years also tend to be the sorts of cultural
conservatives - blue-collar Democrats - that flipped West Virginia and
helped Bush carry Ohio last time,'' he said. "It's the particular nature
of unemployment in this last cycle that has brought them into play."
The unemployment data raise another question, however: Did the White
House reward states for voting Republican in 2000? Among all the red
states from the last election, the average increase in unemployment has
been 0.8 percentage points. In the blue states, it has been 1.1
The difference is not large, regardless of the Bush administration's
efforts or intentions. "The best they've been able to do is play defense
and knock the edge off some of the problems those states have
encountered due to national economic forces," Professor Shaw said.
Still, in a state of five million workers, like Michigan, that
difference could amount to 15,000 jobs - and votes.
Professor Auerbach pointed out that the government had some scope for
funneling spending projects to chosen states. But he said he doubted
that the White House could have controlled enough of those allotments to
turn the election. "I'm not willing to give George Bush or Karl Rove
enough credit for having the capacity to do this," he said, referring to
the president's chief political strategist.
But a reward is not the only possible explanation for the red states'
superior performance. Voters in those states might have chosen George W.
Bush exactly because they expected to reap some material benefits from
his administration. Indeed, Professor Auerbach said, some of those
voters might have been right: "States with a big military presence are
likely to be more pro-Republican, and certainly defense contractors must
have done well under Bush."
The relationship may even amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy: people
vote for a candidate because they believe they will do well under his
administration, and then, presto, he enacts policies that serve their
interests. But even this kind of analysis, incorporating Professor
Shaw's theory about resonant issues, may miss one more layer of
complexity. For many voters, the economic situations in their home
states may not be the major factor in their decisions.
"People who think they're hurting, but the country's doing well - those
people vote for the incumbent," Professor Shaw said. Voters who work in
one state but live in another may present a further challenge, Professor
Fair added. "It could be that the other state is as important to them as
the state they actually reside and vote in," he said.
With just six weeks left before the election, there may be little that
the president and his party can do with the economy to affect the
results. Professor Auerbach says voters tend to be most influenced by
their economic experience, up to but not including the quarter just
before the election.
And in any case, it may be too late to attract votes by using an
economic surge as a lure. During the administration of George H. W.
Bush, economic indicators took a turn for the better just before the
election in 1992 - and he still lost. "Things were finally starting to
pick up at the very end," Professor Auerbach recalled, "but I don't
think it helped him."
Professor Auerbach also warned against a last-minute spending or
tax-cutting spree aimed at attracting votes. "Anything that the
president would propose in the last two months before an election would
amount to pandering," he said, "and that just isn't good fiscal policy."
THAT does not mean politicians won't try. "You'd expect that the federal
government would be quite generous to Florida now, in the hurricane
cleanup," Professor Fair said. "Would they be less generous to Florida
if it wasn't a swing state? Who knows?"
If the White House does swamp Florida with dollars, the president will
most likely say that the gesture came out of the goodness of his heart.
Even if he can't win points for an economic windfall so late in the
game, perhaps it's not too late to burnish his character.
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