Obama’s Prospects in Swing States Deteriorated in 2011

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Most Americans won’t have the power to choose the next President because they live in states so tilted towards one end of the political spectrum that the election outcome, barring calamity, is not in doubt. Mitt Romney doesn’t really have a chance in California. Barack Obama is not going to win Texas.

What matters instead is a group of so-called swing states. And on paper, Obama’s fortunes in these states have declined further and faster than they have for the nation as a whole, both since Obama arrived in Washington, and since the midterm elections in 2010. To draw this conclusion, I looked at state-by-state data recently released by Gallup, and recent Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, analyzing 15 potential swing states. Here’s what I found:

–In 9 of the 15 swing states, Obama’s job approval rating declined more between 2010 to 2011 than it did nationally. For instance, in Colorado Obama’s approval rating declined from 45.2% in 2010 to 40.4% in 2011, a drop of 4.8 points. Nationwide, Obama’s approval from 46.8% to 44.4%, or 2.4 points.

–In 10 of the 15 states, Obama’s approval rating was lower in 2011 than the national rating of 44.4%. Taken as a group, the 15 states gave Obama an average approval rating of 43%. (In the charts below, red text shows state numbers that are worse for Obama than national numbers.)

–In 10 of the 15 swing states, Democratic Party identification declined more between 2010 to 2011 than it did nationally. In 11 of the 15 states, the Democratic identification was lower in 2011 than the national number of 43.7%.

–In 12 of the 15 swing states, the number of employed residents rose more slowly between December of 2010 and December of 2011 than nationally. For example, Nevada enjoyed only a 0.4% increase total seasonally-adjusted non-farm payrolls over the year, while the nationwide increase was 1.3%.

–In 10 of the 15 states, the decrease in working citizens between December of 2008 and December of 2011 has been greater locally than the nationally. For example, total North Carolina non-farm payroll declined 4.2% between December of 2008 and December of 2011, while national payrolls declined 2.3% during the same period.

–In 11 out of the 14 swing states that Obama won in 2008, Obama’s approval rating since 2009 has declined more than his margin of victory. For instance, Obama won Pennsylvania by 10.4 points, but has lost 12.4 points in his approval rating between 2009 and 2011. (In Missouri, which Obama lost by about 0.1%, his approval stood at a paltry 38.6% in 2011, down from 55.5% in 2009.)

This last data point is by no means determinative, since Obama’s approval rating in 2009 was higher across the board than his margin of victory in 2008. But it does show the large number of one-time Obama fans who have soured on the President. There is still time for the numbers to move in Obama’s direction before the election. More recent Gallup national polls, for example, show increases in presidential approval ratings and economic confidence since 2011. It is also true that the states included in this analysis are not the definitive list of swing states because the electoral map tends to shift over time.

But something else is also clear: 2011 was not a good year for Obama nationally. It was even worse in a majority of the states he most needs to win in 2012.