Steep job losses are likely to hit most states in coming weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic forces mass business closures. President Trump will be watching a handful of states in particular.
In a state-by-state analysis of job cuts, forecasting firm IHS Markit finds that employment nationwide will be about 6% lower in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the same period last year. In 10 swing states likely to help decide the 2020 presidential election, job losses will be higher than the national average, which could affect the election if voters in those states blame President Trump for their misfortunes.
The worst outlook is for Nevada, expected to lose 9.8% of its jobs by the end of the year, followed by Florida, with a 7.9% decline. Both states depend heavily on tourism, which is obviously being rocked amid severe cutbacks in travel. Georgia, with its huge airport hub in Atlanta, should see a 6.4% decline in jobs.
Cutbacks in the auto industry and durable goods will slash employment in Pennsylvania by an expected 7.5% decline, Michigan by 7.2% and Ohio by 6.9%. Other swing states likely to suffer more than average: Arizona (a 6.9% decline), Colorado (6.3%), New Hampshire (6.7%) and North Carolina (6.9%).
In 2016, Trump won 7 of those 10 states, losing only New Hampshire, Nevada and Colorado. Those 7 swing states accounted for 125 electoral votes, clinching Trump’s victory margin over Hillary Clinton. Trump won 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the winning threshold of 270.
It’s an open question whether voters will punish Trump for the coronavirus recession as it worsens and drags on. Trump’s approval rating has ticked up about 3 points as the crisis has intensified, to 46% in fivethirtyeight’s composite of polls. That may reflect the rally-around-the-flag effect that’s common when the nation faces a crisis and people feel more inclined to line up behind the president, partisan issues aside.
But Trump has seen a far smaller bump in his approval than leaders in Europe, Canada and elsewhere. Trump dismissed the coronavirus threat for nearly two months, allowing the virus to gain a foothold in numerous large cities. And his administration botched early testing that could have corralled the virus sooner and limited the economic damage.
Of those 10 swing states, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics rates two of them—Arizona and Pennsylvania—tossups. Four lean Republican—Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio—while four others lean Democrat: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada and New Hampshire.
But those are pre-virus numbers, before voters have seen paychecks vanish and businesses shutter. Normally, presidents running for reelection during a recession have no chance, even if they deserve no blame for the downturn. Voters simply turn them out and roll the dice on somebody else.
Trump has beaten the odds before, but the economic news he’ll need to explain seems likely to deteriorate. “If anything, these employment numbers will get worse,” economist Karl Kuykendall of IHS Markit tells Yahoo Finance. “It’s one of the most uncertain events we’ve encountered in our lifetime.” That won’t necessarily make voters any more forgiving come November.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line: email@example.com. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.