GOP focuses on monthly jobs report, but do voters?

Associated Press Modified: September 16, 2012 at 8:30 am •  Published: September 16, 2012
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To homeowners, the value of their house ranks high. With nearly half the nation's adult population owning stocks and other securities, mostly through 401(k) and similar programs at work or in pension funds, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is paid some heed.

At its Friday close, the Dow marked its highest level since December 2007, the first month of the recession.

Other reports are more ominous.

The government reported this past week that the income of the typical American household has fallen to levels last seen in 1995.

Interest rates are also followed by many. When they're low, as now, it means individuals and businesses with good credit can borrow money at exceptionally low rates.

But there is a down side. For savers and seniors on fixed-income, there are paltry payouts on balances often drawing interest of 1 percent or less. This only adds to anxiety, particularly among baby boomers and other older Americans, especially given the softness in housing prices.

Jabril Shaikh, 27, of Milwaukee, works at a temporary job in the legal department at a JPMorgan Chase bank. He considers himself underemployed and says he works with a lot of lawyers who are deeply in debt but are only temporary workers. "It's really sad and frustrating ... but this is all I can get right now, you know?"

Leaning toward Obama, he said the unemployment rate will be a factor in his vote for president. But he's also taking into account other social issues.

Jonathan Ketcham, an Arizona State University associate professor who studies the link between local and state economies and presidential elections, said that, contrary to what many political operatives believe, voters are actually more influenced in their presidential decision by the national economy than by state or local conditions.

"We found that, going back to 1932, a state's unemployment rate had no ability to predict voting for president," he said. Furthermore, he said, despite the GOP four-year "are you better off" question, "we found that most people only pay attention to the most recent year, not to the past four years."

He said he views this as evidence that "people are rightly holding presidents accountable for the performance of the national economy." If true, that could be an important factor in this year's swing states that will likely determine the election outcome.

They're nearly evenly divided between states with jobless rates lower than the 8.1 percent national average, such as Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, and battleground states with higher rates such as Florida, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada.

Heading into the home stretch, Obama leads Romney in Florida, Ohio and Virginia, according to new post Labor-Day NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls.

"I think that in general, Obama's whole economic plan isn't working. Obviously people have been unemployed for a long time," said Rob Sheehy, 41, of Saukville, Wis., an information technology consultant who generally votes Republican. "I definitely do think it's time for a change and we need to try something else."

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Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman and Alan Fram in Washington, Carrie Antlfinger in Wisconsin and John Flesher in Michigan contributed.

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum

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