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The Election Has Never Been About Jobs

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The election was never really about jobs.

Though the unemployment rate ticked down to 7.8% in September -- the first rate below 8% since January 2009 -- it didn't fundamentally signal a change in the sluggish downward trend.

"If you look at the trend of the overall employment picture, this kind of fits in with modestly improving jobs picture," said Brad Sorensen, market and sector research director at Charles Schwab. "We don't think we'll be dropping three-tenths of a percent in the unemployment rate for the next several months."

Throughout 2012, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney have said this election is about jobs and getting Americans back to work. Even back in December 2011, before the Republican primaries began, a major Obama backer said the incumbent should be focused on unemployment.

"The number that a Democrat incumbent needs to be the most focused on is the unemployment number," Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners, said in a previous interview . "If this number gets to 12, 13, 14, 15 ... or even if it begins to head north again, and I mean not a 0.01%, but it literally goes up one or two points, I think that is going to be real problematic. The president's re-election chances are going to be enhanced or diminished by the next 10 months of looking for some economic hope."

Well, we've hit that tenth month, and the unemployment rate sits just a tab below 8%. Last December, the rate was 8.5%, so it's come down just seven-tenths of a percentage point over that span. The trend has been to move incrementally lower month-to-month; although there were slight upticks from March to April and June to July.

The thing is the polls don't suggest the unemployment rate was previously dictating Obama's fate in the election, so it's worth cautioning against assuming it will do so now.

An average of general election polls collected by RealClearPolitics show Obama up 49.3% to 46.1% against Romney. Gallup's latest poll, released Friday, showed Obama up by five percentage points. Though this isn't a runaway lead, it's a fairly stable margin.

In Ohio, the president holds a three-percentage-point average lead against his Republican opponent. Many political consultants contend that Ohio is the pivotal battle ground state that Romney must attain if he has any hope for victory. Obama holds similar comfortable leads in Iowa, Nevada and Colorado.

So while the snail-like decline of the unemployment rate over the past 10 months would seem to benefit Romney, he hasn't been able to translate that into a commanding presence in most of the battleground states. Romney has a 0.8 percentage-point lead in North Carolina (likely a must-win for him), and has drawn even in Florida, but those two states alone wouldn't be enough to put him over the top.