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High unemployment gives Romney an edge – but it's complicated

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Alan Diaz/AP/File

(Read caption) In this October file photo, Fabio Magliano, right, fills out a job application as he stands in line at a job fair in Miami. According to government reports released Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, the US economy added 171,000 jobs in October, and the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent.

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America's unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.9 percent in October, which does not bode well for President Obama's reelection prospects.

The last time unemployment was above 7 percent in October of a presidential election year, incumbent George H.W. Bush  was on his way to losing the White House to upstart challenger Bill Clinton in 1992. So the sad shape of today's economy favors challenger Mitt Romney in Tuesday's election.

But unemployment is not always a decisive factor in elections – indeed, perhaps not a decisive one at all.  October unemployment was even higher in 1984 (7.4 vs. 7.3 percent) and that year President Reagan thumped challenger Walter Mondale with 58.8 percent of the vote. So Mr. Obama's supporters can take heart that elections turn on something other than the unemployment rate.

Of course, these are extraordinary times. October's 7.9 percent unemployment is the worst of any election-year October since 1940, the tail end of the Depression. Back then, it was nearly double today's rate, yet incumbent Franklin Roosevelt handily beat dark horse challenger Wendell Willkie with 54.7 percent of the vote.

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