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Swing State

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:

House State-wide Elections
Year Dem Rep Pres Senate Gov
2002 6 12 R
2004 6 12 R R
2006 7 11 D D
2008 10 8 D
2010 5 13 R

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.

26 thoughts on “Swing State

    • Thanks. That’s what I think this election is going to be about – more or less what the last several have been about in Ohio, except even moreso nationwide.

  1. One interesting element of Ohio politics, to me, is that the massive Republican vote-stealing and manipulation of a few years ago was only seriously objected to by the Green Party, not by the Dems. This made me wonder if the Dems were doing the same thing, only less effectively.

    The graphic is compelling, but the baseline not being zero exaggerates things.

    Have the Ohio Dems–and organized labor–offered any convincing explanation for the decline of manufacturing and what, if anything, might be done about it? I suspect not, and that is a reason for the political oscillations. Why would displaced workers vote Republican if the Dems were offering them ANYTHING?

    • First, my apologies for the lack of a zero baseline – much as I love the graphs generated at the St Louis Fed, the inability to impose a real zero on them is a huge failing. I’ve written to them asking for at least the option and not had a response. I use them anyway because the source is so authoritative.
      As for the rest – YES! The Dems were given a chance and did not deliver. Granted, they weren’t given a lot of time, but seeing as there was little progress and no one was actually focusing on the problem I don’t blame Ohio for giving up early. I honestly believe that they will keep doing the same thing until something changes.
      The question is – has anything really changed? You’re clearly skeptical that anything is changing and I don’t blame you. I’m about halfway down the same road myself. But if there are jobs being created, especially in manufacturing, it may seem like something is going right even if the leadership really isn’t there to push it hard.
      We’ll see what they think in Ohio come November. And the rest of the nation, too.

  2. I did a little research of my own and found that the total republican swing in 2010 as 80 seats in the house. 5 of those were in Ohio alone? That is a lot. I know its kind of a big state but as a percentage they did swing a lot more than the rest of the nation. I think you have an interesting point. Do you have figures for the whole midwest?

  3. Doesn’t look like Ohio is “back to even” in jobs even if the rest of the nation is. A victory lap by Obama if he does get the jobs numbers he needs might not play well in Ohio no matter what. Just my few cents worth, great blog.

    • A very, very good point. I hadn’t thought of that at all. Thank you. But you can tell I’m suggesting tactics and themes for the election, yes. 🙂

  4. There is nothing better than an academic paper to cool passions about a subject. The flip side of the question of manufacturing losses in the US is how other nations fared during the recession. This paper describes what happened in German manufacturing employment during the recession.

    Click to access 2009_4_zaf_moeller.pdf

    Unemployment rates did not rise greatly because companies did not lay people off and instead had them work shorter hours. Also they had labor agreements where they could bank overtime hours when the production needed it and when the recession struck they could take time off, without being laid off. The paper’s author’s notes that productivity also when down during the recession. Perhaps the US could apply some of these labor market strategies. * Now everyone knows China is the light manufacturing center of the world. It is hard to say how long that will last.

    • Thank you, this will take some time to digest. What I can add is that back in 2000 the German economy faced much of what we did (the Depression was felt, at least in part, through the developed world). Back then there was a lot of streamlining and some “job sharing” where workers would voluntarily go to half-time and share one job rather than have layoffs.
      Much of what I see in this report in a quick skim deals with their unraveling the welfare state AND simultaneously working to bring full employment as much as deal with the 2008 downturn. I know that their overhead per employee is far lower than ours, which is what makes a lot of this possible – I still say that’s point #1 for us to both get short-term job growth and speed up economic restructuring.
      But yes, a flexible labor force can be in the best interests of both employers and working families. Developing policies that make this possible are very critical, and Germany is way, way ahead of us on this. I will read the whole thing tonight, I hope. Thanks!
      As for China – so many things have to catch up with them. Start with demographics, add in a centrally planned economy, throw in chaos as they just passed the mark where a majority live in cities for the first time – yeah, they can’t maintain this pace forever.

  5. You had noted the limp effect of the Fed and ECB liquidity.

    This article is suggesting it went to emerging economies. It says
    “Well the massive liquidity easing engaged in by the Federal Reserve in the US and the Wall of Money sent out by the ECB has loosened credit conditions, but not in the intended economies. ..
    Confidence is back globally, as fears of an imminent Euro unwind recede, and “risk” is “on again”. Cheap liquidity available for tapping in over-indebted developed economies is flowing into rapidly growing emerging markets again, risking yet more distortions in their developing economies.”

    As noted in Barataria there are apparently gobs of savings that turn into financial instruments and physical investment and they go to various places in the world. Sometimes too much in some places.
    This is probably because all the financial analysts and economic forecasters (including us and laypeople) think in the same way. As you said the IMF and other thinkers are trying to aaddress this.

    • Braaaaa-ziiiil … when stars were entertaining June,
      We stood beneath an amber moon ,,,
      (I should work up a full parody, ya know!)

      I was thinking about this just last week, believe it or not. Why the Hell would anyone invest in a developed nation that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere when you can put money into Brasil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore … hell, even India could be interesting.
      Now, if we could get people interested in Detroit, á la a Chrysler commercial, that would be more interesting. But something tells me that São Paulo is going to be far more enticing – and not just for the romance of it.

  6. The American West used to be a frontier, a place of new beginnings and opportunity. Northwest Ordinance. John Kennedy asserted a New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson sang about a Great Society. But the world frontier is wherever capital is going…The bond traders at their desks…the flashing computers.
    Much has been written about the decline of industrial Great Britain in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. They have a lot of debt, but still the Olympics will be there. Let’s see what the West has to show.

  7. However, the United State of America is like Athens, Sparta, the Roman Republic, the Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire all at once. I add the Byzantines because they spoke Greek and were religious, similar to Republicans. : ) The USA proclaims universal values but we don’t always live up to them ourselves. The other frontier is wherever our army is, battling it out on the edges just like the Romans did. The thing about the September 11 attacks is that that is uncivilized. That’s like what the Mongol Empire used to do.

    The greatness of America is people still want to live here from other countries. They like us because they like our TV, movies, and electronics, and sports. People don’t really want to live in China, India, Russia, Japan and Saudi Arabia if they don’t have to. Soccer is boring. Turkey, Brazil and Argentina, maybe yes.

  8. I’m going to speculate/pontificate a bit here. We liberals keep wondering why working-class people “vote against their own interests”–as indeed they do when they vote Republican. From *our* point of view. But thinking about your Ohio post:

    I suppose most people know the time of blue-collar prosperity in the US is over, regardless of promises from either party. Things could different but our political system lacks the capacity to change our course of decline. So they don’t really expect much, and why not indulge their fears and resentments by buying into “wedge” issues and voting for cranks?

    Obama ran, raising expectations–and I think campaigns like that are really just a matter of offering targets on which people can project their hopes. He was skilled at doing that while making clear behind the scenes that he was no real threat to the status quo. (Even the frigging Nobel Prize Committee drank the cool aid…!!).

    So he gets in, and governs in a manner only marginally different than Bush. Doesn’t disturb the banks, the military …bails out Detroit … does just enough counter-cyclical spending to create–maybe–a bottom but not enough to create a feeling of noticeable opportunity for workers. Does nothing to help those being dispossessed of their homes….

    So is it any wonder that voters felt screwed and swung to the right? Not to me.

    And now, another election approaching, Obama meters out more doses of hope-raising gestures towards workers, the poor, enviros, peace and justice people … but little that is likely to endure, that hasn’t been checked out beforehand with his funders, that can be taken seriously.

    Is it any wonder that Romney is equal in the polls, that the outcome of the election is uncertain? That rust-belt residents are confused and lurching around politically?

    • Well, yes. That’s pretty much where I’m coming from.
      I can’t know everything about someone – what works for them, what doesn’t, what they need in life and what they don’t. If someone doesn’t see things my way that’s simply because I’m not them.
      As much as I appreciate liberal/democrat ideas, the reality is that we lose about half the time. Why is that? In part because we haven’t solved the problems that really matter to people. One of them, I’m pretty sure, is the one above. If we can’t get people jobs, what friggin’ good are we?
      But I’m sure there are many more ways that we fail. Being insensitive to long cherished values doesn’t help a bit, for one.
      So can we do a lot better? Of course we can – we can lose a lot less than we are. And I refuse to believe that about half the people are stupid or brainwashed or in some other way inferior to me. It’s far more reasonable that “our side” has just done a lousy job for some reason – some reason most of us just don’t understand.
      Look at that chart again and tell me why *anyone* in Ohio would have faith in the “system” when that has been going on for 10 years and no one has really said “Boo” about it.
      I think a lot of self-styled “Independents” would eagerly vote for the first Democrat they thought could reliably add 2 and 2 to get 4. They just haven’t seen a lot of evidence that our team is capable of doing that. Why is that? Is our side particularly stupid? Probably not. We’re just talking past a lot of people and seeing them where they live.
      So while I may not be able to talk to people on the “other side”, though I might try sometimes, I will do my best to talk to “my side” and give a few pointers to people who at least really want to win, if not do the right thing.
      I’ve been accused by many people (usually the women in my life) of always standing “outside of myself” or something like that. Well, I’m not particularly selfish, I’d say, despite how popular selfishness is. But what you are thinking though right now is pretty much where I’ve been coming from these last five years or so. I try to meet the selfish world about halfway so I don’t seem too weird and can get the message across, but you’re where I tend to start from.
      Things look a little different when you’re outside looking in on these issues, aren’t they? People aren’t dumb or duped – they have their reasons. Viva la Democracy.

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