Evidence of Better Employment in Red States?

Posted: June 22, 2012 in analysis

Speaking on CNN (and as reported at talkingpointsmemo), Governor Bob McDonnell, in an effort to link the economic recovery to Republican governors and not President Obama, said:

 “There’s something going on with Republican-governed states. Seven out of the 10 states nationwide, Candy, that have the lowest unemployment rates: Republican governor states.”

By now you should have figured out the drill; does this show real evidence that Republican-governed states have lower unemployment than Democratic-governed ones?

The short answer is no. The long answer is nnnnnnooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.  (sorry, bad joke). Simply put, there are more Republican governors than Democratic ones, so more Republican states appear in every part of the unemployment list.  Only 3 out of 10 of the lowest unemployment states are governed by Democrats, but only 3 out of 10 of the highest unemployment states are (the one independent governed state means that only 6 of them are Republican).

Of course, we can do better than just counting from the top 10 and bottom 10.  A simple statistical model can give a much better sense of whether governor party affiliation affects unemployment.  The answer is no.  While Republican governed states have slightly lower average unemployment, the difference is tiny (0.3%) and is very likely caused by random change (p=0.54).  Trying to refine the model by adding length of incumbency or length of party incumbency does not produce any results other than noise.  Sometimes one party is a little ahead, sometimes the other, but the results are never significant.

The conclusion is pretty clear, then.  Mr. McDonnell’s statement is factually true only in the most technical sense, and any implication he tries to draw from it is faulty.


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