Battleground Economics – Do Swing-State Financial Conditions Favor Obama or Romney?

If the presidential election comes down to economics, conditions in these swing states may pose a problem for one of the candidates. Find out which.
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Are your finances better off now than they were four years ago? If you live in a hotly contested “battleground” state, your answer may have special significance to the presidential race.

To gauge how swing-state voters may be feeling about the economy, MoneyRates examined household finances in these places to measure how conditions have changed since 2008. The premise here is that if these states’ conditions have fared better than the rest of the U.S. economy during that time, it may be a good sign for President Obama. And if conditions in these states have slid compared to the nation, it may bode well for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Naturally, there are countless factors that go into determining a presidential election, and the measures below will hardly be the only things on voters’ minds on November 6. But in a contest that has focused largely on economic issues, it’s worth noting how these indicators have changed for these states relative to the rest of the nation. 

Challenges to the incumbent

Based strictly on this look at household financial conditions in eight battleground states, President Obama’s chances of winning another four years in the White House may hinge on whether he can make the election more about the future than the past: Conditions in three-quarters of those states have fared worse than the national averages in a majority of categories surveyed.

The analysis looked at three factors that hit home when it comes to personal finances: unemployment, average salaries and median credit scores. Out of the eight battleground states, six seem to be having a harder time than the rest of the country in two of those three categories. Only one battleground state, Virginia, beats the national average in all three categories.

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of how these battleground economies have performed in the last four years:


Colorado’s nine electoral votes may be lost or won based on the job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment there is higher than the national average, and average wage growth since 2008 has been slower.

The one area in which Colorado was doing a little better than the rest of the nation was credit scores. Based on figures from, median credit ratings in all the battleground states have deteriorated since 2008, but in the case of Colorado, the drop has been slightly milder than the national average. Still, that’s two out of three factors counting against the president in this state.


With 29 electoral votes, Florida offers the biggest prize of all the battleground states. Unemployment there is higher than the national average, but it was already higher than average in 2008. Since then, unemployment has actually risen less sharply than in the rest of the country.

The real problem in Florida is credit scores, which have slipped more than the average U.S. score. Coupled with anemic wage growth in the state, that’s two out of three factors in Romney’s favor.


Economic conditions are relatively strong in Iowa, though this state only has six electoral votes in play. Iowa’s unemployment rate is much lower than the national average, and average salary growth since 2008 has been stronger than for the country as a whole. The only drawback is with regard to credit scores. While Iowa’s median credit score is still higher than the national average, it has suffered a sharper decline since 2008.


The biggest problem in Nevada is unemployment, which is much worse than the national average. Credit scores have also taken a beating, though surprisingly, wage growth has been relatively strong. All-in-all, that makes two out of three financial factors working against Obama’s capturing Nevada’s six electoral votes.

New Hampshire

Like Iowa, New Hampshire is blessed with relatively low unemployment. However, wage growth has been weak, and the median credit score has suffered a worse decline than the national average. Those factors could be tip the state’s four electoral votes toward Romney.


With 18 electoral votes, Ohio is one of the high-stakes battleground states. Unemployment is not only below the national average, but it has actually declined since 2008. Unfortunately for the President, wage growth has been below par, and the median credit score has seen a bigger-than-average drop.


Virginia offers 13 electoral votes, and that might be a lucky number for Obama, because this state seems the strongest economically of all the battleground states. Unemployment is low and wage growth has been high. Perhaps thanks to those factors, the median credit score has held up better in Virginia than in any of the other battleground states.


Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is a bit lower than the national average, but that’s the only positive factor here. Wage growth has been below average, and credit scores have suffered a bigger-than-average decline. Those negatives could help nudge the state’s 10 electoral votes in Romney’s direction.

Voting with their wallets

Again, a multitude of factors decide presidential elections — even ones that focus largely on economic issues, as the 2012 contest has. But if people were to vote strictly according to their wallets in 2012, this analysis indicates that these battleground states would deliver 76 electoral votes to Romney and 19 to Obama.

Average credit scores and salaries tend to evolve gradually, leaving unemployment as the only factor that could improve meaningfully before the election. So unless job creation picks up — and picks up in the right parts of the country — this analysis of battleground economics favors Mitt Romney over Barack Obama.

Richard Barrington, a Senior Financial Analyst at MoneyRates, brings over three decades of financial services expertise to the table. His insightful analyses and commentary have made him a sought-after voice in media, with appearances on Fox Business News, NPR, and quotes in major publications like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. His proficiency is further solidified by the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation, highlighting Richard’s depth of knowledge and commitment to financial excellence.
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