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How is Obama ahead in 8 of 9 swing states with the economy so weak?

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The president appears to be faring well despite obvious economic problems that persist on his watch:

  • The US unemployment rate is 8.1 percent. The last time a president won reelection with an unemployment rate above 8 percent was Franklin Roosevelt – further back than the Labor Department can go with its monthly histories of the unemployment rate.
  • Although job growth has been positive during the past two years, the nation has fewer jobs now than when Obama took office.
  • The Census Bureau announced last week that household incomes, after adjusting for inflation, have gone down each year since the recession began in 2007 – including a 1.5 percent decline last year.

What gives?

Many pundits are busy analyzing alleged shortcomings in Romney's messaging, and some campaign-trail missteps. Others have taken note of the pro-Obama pep talk given by former President Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, and a prodigious amount of advertising dollars spent recently by the Obama campaign.

But part of the answer is more mundane: Obama's position in the polls may not be that surprising after all. By some measures, it matches up pretty well with the economic signals that swing-state voters are receiving in their paychecks, in the help-wanted ads, and in local real estate markets.

Ray Fair, a Yale University economist who has created a model designed to predict election outcomes based on economic performance, says current conditions suggest a close election, not one tilted obviously against the incumbent. And although Obama may be up in swing-state polls for now, his edge remains vulnerable.

"The election is too close to call," Mr. Fair says, citing the numbers in his model and noting that they are fairly consistent with what opinion surveys show. His model currently suggests that Obama will get 49.5 percent of all two-party (Romney or Obama) voters, with a margin of error of about 2 percentage points.

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