Today is the most important so far in the 2016 election, with 12 states making their voices heard on both the Democratic and Republican sides.
And while we’ve heard a lot about the demographic makeup of the states that will vote on March 1st, we’ve heard less about state of their local economies, and how that might affect the outcome of the primaries. Given the fact that the vast majority of Americans say the economy is a driving factor in their decision making, it would be logical that voter behavior will be highly correlated with the state of the local economy.
How will that play out? The conventional wisdom is that states with the better-fairing economies will likely back the candidates that are seen as part of the political establishment—in this case Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio—and the states with the slowest growth and highest unemployment are most likely to go with the outsiders—Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and, possibly, Ted Cruz. Of course, the polls are suggesting that Trump and Clinton will walk away from Super Tuesday with the biggest gain in delegates. But a look at the economies of the states may tell us where we may see some upsets.
The Housing Market
The housing markets in Super Tuesday states have fared better than the nation at large, according to analysis from online real estate firm Trulia. The largest economy in play tomorrow—Texas—leads the way with a more than 50% increase in the median home price since 2011. That could be bad for Cruz in his home state, as voters that may have gone to him could lean toward Rubio.
What’s more, the fact that Trump is leading in the polls, may suggest that supporters are gravitating to him out of purely economic desperation. But the housing market data suggests otherwise. As for Clinton, the home price appreciation probably bodes well for her, especially if housing price increases erase memories of the housing bust, which is closely associate with Wall Street, the misdeeds of which are a big theme of Sanders’ campaign.
We should, however, pair our analysis of home price appreciation with foreclosure data. Some of the states that have seen the biggest increases in home prices were also those where the real estate crisis hit the hardest.
The following chart shows the Super Tuesday states for which foreclosure data is publicly available. Data on foreclosure sales as percentage of overall home sales aren’t publicly available for Alaska, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, unfortunately, but looking at the states whose data we do have is illuminating:
The states that have dealt with the worst of the foreclosure crisis, like Colorado and Minnesota, are also those the experts are predicting Sanders has the best chance of winning. Those predictions are in part due to the fact that these states hold caucuses, which tend to benefit the candidate with the most energetic following more than in primary states. But an added boost could come from the fact that these states have also experienced a more severe version of the foreclosure crisis than the typical American state. And, of course, that will play into Sanders calls for the need to further reform Wall Street and our financial sector as well.
One prime cause of American economic dissatisfaction is the slow growth in wages. Worker pay has grown slightly higher in the past four years in Super Tuesday states. Still, that’s not saying much. Per capita income growth has been pretty tepid across the country, without much variation. But there still remain large variation in where people workers own the most money per year, with those in Massachussetts earning almost 65% more per year than those in Arkansas.
This may matter. Polls have shown that Trump has had his strongest support among lower income Americans.
Job Gains and the Unemployment Rate
When it comes to job growth and the overall unemployment rate, Super Tuesday states have also fared better than the country at large.
As you can see from the above map, unemployment is higher in southern states, many of which are places where Donald Trump is polling best. But the economic data may point to at least one upset for The Donald. Rubio has put a log of Super Tuesday chips on Virginia, spending a lot of his time and campaign dollars there. If the economic data is an indicator, he may be able to pull off a victory there. Among the Super Tuesday states, Virginia has one of the lowest rates of unemployment.
At the same time, many of the southern states with the highest rates of unemployment are where the more establishment candidate on the democratic side, Clinton, is ahead in the polls. So that may indicate the economy doesn’t matter as much, at least to Democratic voters.
When it comes to job gains, Texas again shows off its relative economic strength in recent years, along with Colorado, which obviously shook off some of the housing-crisis related economic pain that it felt in the immediate wake of the crisis to post above-average job growth.
No matter who wins, when the results of Super Tuesday are in, we’ll have a better idea of whether the unemployment rate, and wages and housing is as important to voters as they say, or whether this is finally the election where it’s stupid to say it’s just the about the economy.