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Recession has left swing states unpredictable

Since the housing bubble burst, Nevada has been plagued with record foreclosures, the nation's steepest drop in home values and its highest unemployment rate.

Iowa, on the other hand, may have missed out on some of the boom but was spared the worst of the bust.

The state's housing prices have stayed relatively stable, and it now has the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Ohio suffered a steeper than average loss of jobs during the recession, but it has since seen its unemployment rate fall below the national average.

All three are among the handful of swing states that are likely to decide who wins the 2012 presidential election -- states in very different stages of a slow economic recovery.

With just over six months until Election Day, an analysis of the emerging electoral map by The New York Times found that the outcome will most likely be determined by how well President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney perform in nine tossup states. All nine voted for Obama in 2008, only to see Republicans make big gains since then.

Now, with many of those states transformed economically and politically by the recession and its aftermath, they are perhaps even less predictable than they were in past close elections. The disparity in their circumstances highlights the challenges that both the Obama and the Romney campaigns face in framing arguments that will resonate across the country.

The nine -- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin -- offer both parties reasons for hope, and concern. It is no coincidence that Obama chose two of them, Ohio and Virginia, to hold his first official re-election rallies Saturday.

"This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class," Obama said at Ohio State University in Columbus.

While the performance of the national economy will help shape the mood of the country and set the tone of each campaign, the situation in each of the nine states could be pivotal as well. It would be hard to argue that these states are better off now than they were four years ago, given that they have yet to recover the jobs they lost.

But political scientists have found that past elections have been more influenced by the changes in the economy in the year or two before the election.