Under our nation’s idiotic electoral college system, presidential elections are decided on a state by state basis. In a relatively close election it is possible for a candidate to lose the national popular vote but still win the necessary 270 electoral college votes by performing well in and winning just enough swing states.

When thinking about how the economy will affect the next presidential election it’s important to look not just at the economy of the entire country but also the economy in the Swings States of America.

I broke the potential swing states into the decent, the bad and the ugly, based on their current unemployment rates.  No swing state is doing “good” during this economic slump, but some are not doing as poorly as the rest of the country.

  • The Decent – New Hampshire, Iowa and Virginia all have official unemployment well below the national average. This should give the Obama campaign hope that he could win in these states.
  • The Bad – Colorado and Ohio both are doing about as well as or slightly better than the national average.
  • The Ugly – While the bad economy has hurt almost every part of the country, it has seriously hit Florida and Nevada. Not only do both states currently suffer from double digit unemployment, but they both had unemployment rates below the national average in 2007. The North Carolina job market has also been hit much harder than the national average, although not as horribly as Florida and Nevada.

The good news for the Obama team is that assuming he holds all the states he won in 2008  by a margin of 10 points or more (besides economically devastated Nevada) and he wins the three swing states that have done comparatively well during this economic downturn, he would win a total of 270 electoral college votes. That is the exact minimum necessary to secure a second term. This indicates there is a slim possibility that Obama could actually win an extremely close election with 270 electoral votes despite losing the national popular vote.

The bad news for Obama is that Florida, by far the biggest swing state prize, is just in terrible economic shape compared to the rest of the country. The horrible economic conditions in Florida could potentially move this perennial swing state out of reach.