JEFF AMY,Associated Press
An AP Analysis
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Is Mississippi’s high unemployment rate a threat to Gov. Phil Bryant’s popularity?
It’s hard to tell, but the governor might think so.
Mississippi is saddled with the nation’s third-highest jobless rate, at 9 percent in June. While the nation’s unemployment rate has slowly improved, the jobless rate in the Magnolia State has remained stuck at 9 percent or above in every month except one since the Republican took office in January 2012.
The unemployment rate may actually be the most discouraging indicator when it comes to the state’s economy. A separate measure of payrolls has been improving, even if it remains well below pre-recession levels. The overall state economy, as measured by gross domestic product, had the best year since the recession in 2012. And Mississippi tax collections also continue to rise.
The governor has more than two years before voters will pass judgment on his performance, assuming he seeks a second term. And by that time, the unemployment rate may line up with the more promising trends.
Bryant, though, seems to sense some peril. He devoted nearly half of his 2013 State of the State speech to reciting job announcements from the previous year. And the governor’s office works to associate itself with jobs at every opportunity.
Any announcement of more than 25 new jobs that’s assisted by the Mississippi Development Authority comes from the governor’s office. Bryant has sometimes appeared at announcements for companies adding fewer than 100 jobs.
There may be a sign somewhere in the governor’s office that echoes James Carville’s 1992 mantra to Bill Clinton — “The economy, stupid.”
MDA counts more than 6,000 jobs that it has helped retain or create so far this year. Bryant, of course, mentioned the new jobs that the state has assisted with in his Neshoba County Fair speech
“Let me tell you, Mississippi is growing and doing dynamic things,” Bryant told the crowd. He later promoted jobs again in an Internet video that he filmed for supporters following the speech.
It’s hard to objectively determine how popular Bryant currently is, with few published opinion polls in Mississippi.
But the governor seems to be reasonably popular, and of the things that opponents bay about, unemployment doesn’t usually top the list.
From a broader perspective, it’s hard to assess how much blame or credit elected officials should get for as complicated an animal as Mississippi’s $100 billion economy. But that doesn’t stop people from pinning the tail on their least favorite donkey or elephant.
Bryant may be benefit having a partisan opposite, Democrat Barack Obama, as president.
Voters may divide responsibility for economic conditions by party, preferring to blame officials from the opposing party when problems arise. That was the finding of a 2010 study in the Journal of Politics by Adam Brown, a political science professor at Brigham Young University in Utah. Brown found that when the governor and president are from different parties, voters tend to blame the politician from the opposite party for a bad economy.
“When the president and the governor belong to opposing parties, voters will overestimate the policy success of whichever level of government that is controlled by their preferred party,” Brown wrote.
Of course, there’s one more factor. Any governor of Mississippi may benefit from low expectations when it comes to the economy. With the state’s customary location at the bottom of measures for income and poverty, as well as its typical pattern of slow economic growth, voters may just not have a very high standard for a governor when it comes to economic performance.
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