Unemployment and 2012

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If Barack Obama is going to be re-elected in 2012, it’s pretty clear that unemployment in America will have to come down from its current level of 9.4 percent. (Obviously this isn’t a precise science, but I agree we’re most likely talking about a number closer to eight than nine.)

But there’s the national number, and then there are the state-by-state numbers. And an added headache for Obama and his strategists is that the good economic news tends to be clustered in non-competitive 2012 states. Whereas some of the worst news can be found in states that Obama will be relying on to win in 2012.

Consider the states enjoying below-average unemployment: the Dakotas, Nebraska, Hawaii, Vermont, Wyoming (to name a few). All are either solid red or solid blue, and almost nothing will change them.

By contrast, several 2008 battleground states (are we still allowed to call them “battlegrounds”?) clock in at or above average. There’s the electorally all-important Florida, mired at 12 percent and still headed in the wrong direction. At 9.8 percent, also-vital Ohio is almost a point above the national average. Obama stole North Carolina from the GOP in 2008, but that will be harder in 2012 given its current 9.7 percent rate. And the hardest-hit state in America, at 14.3 percent, is purply Nevada. (At 12.4 percent Michigan is in dire straits as well, though Obama will presumably get credit there for having rescued the automakers.)

The list offers some bright spots for Obama: Virginia and Minnesota are both doing okay, in relative terms. But mostly what you find is that the national average is being pulled down by a bunch of fairly healthy states that won’t matter in 2012. So as you hear people debate the role of unemployment in the next presidential election, remember that all politics is local.

Complete state-by-state chart after the jump.