Any analysis of national elections always comes down to a few “Swing States”. These are the states that are not reliably in one camp or another but are up for grabs. None of them has characterized the national elections better than Ohio, a state that had 20 Electoral Votes through the 2000s – a fairly rich prize. It has served as a valuable “bellwether”, picking the winner consistently for some time. As chaotic as our national politics has been, Ohio has seen it all.
But the story of Ohio might well come down to a very simple analysis itself. The economy of Ohio, specifically the state of jobs, may tell the whole story despite all the smoke and noise that accompanies elections. It is a tale of a Depression, running its course through the heartland of America since at least the year 2000.
Ohio is generally part of the industrial Midwest – a state where people make stuff. It has its big cities with two NFL teams, but it also has smaller mill towns dotting the rolling hills. Manufacturing jobs, as much as 18% of the total employment of Ohio in 2000, define the state’s economy and also its outlook on life. Manufacturing jobs are a way that people can get to work right out of High School and gradually learn on the job as they work their way up the ladder. They have always represented opportunity.
That is why this chart from the St Louis Federal Reserve explains Ohio so well as the Managed Depression has run through the state. Total Jobs are plotted as the blue line against the left scale, Manufacturing Jobs by the red line on the right scale:
Note that the long slide from over 1M Manufacturing jobs to 600k at the bottom did not pick up at the end of the official “Recession” in 2001 (grey shaded area). Total jobs leveled out in 2004 but did not recover substantially in 2004, then fell off a cliff in 2008. The net loss of 400k+ Manufacturing job loss peak-to-trough is about two-thirds the total job loss of 600k.
There was no “Recovery” between the official “Recessions”. To Ohio it has been one long event that can only be called a “Depression”.
How did the people of Ohio respond to this Depression that has been in place since 2000? The chart below shows their voting record – with their Democrat and Republican US House delegation on the left and their statewide vote for President, Senate, and Governor on the right:
Ohio came into this Depression a Republican state, but turned Democrat – cautiously at first in 2006, but solidly in 2008. They voted out the people who were running things and tried something else. When that didn’t appear to be working in 2010, they reversed back again in 2010 in a big way.
This is the tale of the great bellwether, a term for a neutered male sheep with the added indignity of a bell around his neck that will ring when he runs away from predators, alerting the owner of the flock. Ohio has been ringing and bleating as loudly as it can for a decade, swinging like no other “Swing State” as they vote out the bums they elected just two years ago. They apparently feel that no one has been listening. The story of their plight is in the graph, however, for anyone to see.
What will Ohio do in 2012? For one thing, they lose two electoral votes as their population has not kept up with the rest of the nation through this Depression. But notice the small uptick of not quite 50k manufacturing jobs since the bottom in 2009. If that continues, they may very well go back to voting Democrat this year. But if it doesn’t, or that’s not enough to notice, they may stay in the Republican camp one more cycle.
Ohio is telling us a story. It’s a story repeated in varying degrees in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Wisconsin – the industrial heartland where people make stuff. No one can look at what they have been through and not see it as a Depression – and understand why our national leadership has changed hands so rapidly lately as voters in “Swing States” desperately seek something different as nothing changes around them.
It is worth keeping an eye on – for once.