- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Combining the results of an abundance of statewide September polls with the recently released state unemployment rates for August helps to explain why John Kerry has withdrawn his ads in seven battleground states. The same data also reveal that the Democratic presidential nominee is encountering electoral problems in other key states, including Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and New Jersey — all of which were captured in 2000 by Al Gore. Meanwhile, despite the fact that the unemployment rate has actually increased in Ohio compared to a year ago and barely budged in Missouri (two crucial states for George W. Bush), the president has opened up impressive leads in each (55-41 in Missouri and 52-43 in Ohio), according to some polls.

Minnesota is the only state that has given its electoral votes to the Democratic candidate in each of the past seven elections, but an August unemployment rate of 4.8 percent may explain why recent polls by CNN/Gallup/USA Today and Mason-Dixon show the president opening a narrow lead. The unemployment rate for Wisconsin, which has voted Democratic for 4 elections in a row, has fallen nearly a full percentage point over the past year to 4.8 percent, which is more than a half-percentage point below the national average of 5.4 percent. A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll shows Bush-Cheney with an eight-point lead.

Democrats have won Pennsylvania by an average of more than 350,000 votes during the last three presidential elections. Two recent polls, however, show Mr. Bush with narrow leads despite the fact that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has actually increased over the past year.

At 6.2 percent in Washington and 7.4 percent in Oregon, the unemployment rates still remain well above the national average. Nevertheless, since August 2003, they have declined by 1.5 percentage points in Washington and by 1 percentage point in Oregon. These favorable trends may explain why a September Strategic Vision poll shows Mr. Bush trailing by only two points in Washington and why a Riley Research Associates poll completed in early September reveals Mr. Bush to be within a single point of Mr. Kerry in Oregon. Admittedly, other polls reflect wider Kerry leads, but neither Northwest state, each of which has voted Democratic during the last four elections, can be considered to be comfortably in the Democratic column for 2004.

Perhaps most surprising is the battle for New Jersey, which Mr. Gore won by more than 500,000 votes — and 16 percentage points — in 2000. A September Newark Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll showed that the 20-point lead (53-33) that Mr. Kerry enjoyed after the Democratic convention dwindled to a mere two points (43-41) following the Republican convention. The unemployment rate in New Jersey has fallen more than a percentage point over the past year to 4.8 percent in August.

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