President Trump hopes for a sharp rebound in the economy by fall, as the coronavirus outbreak eases and some Americans go back to work. But the economic damage in several swing states crucial to the 2020 presidential race will still be devastating on Election Day, and beyond.
New projections from forecasting firm IHS Markit show 6 swing states among the 10 states with the worst job losses by the beginning of 2021: Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Arizona. Nevada fares worst among all states, with a 21% drop in jobs from the first quarter of 2020 to the same period in 2021, mainly because of its reliance on Las Vegas tourism, which has shriveled. Michigan is third worst with a 17.1% drop in jobs, due to heavy losses in manufacturing. Then comes Florida, fourth worst, with a 16.8% loss in jobs, also because of tourism declines. The average among all 50 states is a 15% drop in jobs.
IHS doesn’t think employment levels will recover to pre-virus levels until 2024. Improvements will be gradual, starting later this year, but by the time of the election in November, voters could feel pretty sour. “It will feel better than it feels now,” says IHS economist Karl Kuykendall, “but we’re not going to be at the point where people feel confident about the economy. The virus risks will still be out there.”
This is perilous news for Trump, who has just five months to convince voters the coronavirus recession isn’t his fault and muster convincing evidence of a turnaround. No president has won reelection in the midst of a recession since William McKinley in 1900. Former vice president Joe Biden leads Trump by 5.9 percentage points in a composite of national polls, and in the latest poll, by ABC News and the Washington Post, Biden leads Trump by 10 points.
Trump’s marks for his handling of the coronavirus crisis have fallen since early April, with 43% now approving and 54% disapproving. The votes that matter most will be those in 6 to 10 swing states that are closely divided, including those mentioned above, plus Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and perhaps even Texas. Biden leads Trump in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and his margin over Trump has improved since mid-April. If Biden wins those states it would be enough to put him over the top in the electoral vote and become president next January.
Statewide polls are dicey, one reason for Hillary Clinton’s surprise loss to Trump in 2016. Back then, statewide polls in places like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania probably underrepresented less educated voters who ended up voting for Trump in large numbers. Pollsters have adjusted their methodologies since then, to prevent another set of errant results. But we won’t know until November.
Trump won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than one percentage point in 2016, and Florida by about 1.2 points. So small swings in favor of Biden this time around could cost Trump the election. If Biden wins Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, plus all the states Clinton won in 2016, he’ll become the next president.
In the IHS forecasts, rural states fare better, since they have fewer virus hotspots and can manage with less severe shutdowns. But even the best-off state, South Dakota, will lose about 12.7% of its jobs by early next year. That’s worse than any state fared during the 2009 recession. Come November, no state will be in good shape.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Encrypted communication available. Click here to get Rick’s stories by email.