It’s been said that when voters darken the circles on election day, their primary concern is their bank account, and for that moment at least they are willing to suspend any social outrage that might have been in the forefront of their minds before entering the booth.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, hopes that axiom holds true on Nov. 8.
His opponent, Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, hopes that House Bill 2 remains on the minds of voters.
Statistics can be bent into lies, but those who want McCrory denied a second term will struggle to attack him on the state’s economy, which has shown steady growth since the former Charlotte mayor was sworn into office in January 2013. In fact, news is fresh that North Carolina is the only one among the 50 states whose jobless rate for June went down.
That leaves North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.9 percent the same as the nation’s rate, the first time since January 2015 that the Tar Heel state has been equal to or better than the national rate — and at its lowest level since 2007.
When McCrory took office, North Carolina, still reeling from the Great Recession, had an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, so the decrease has been by almost half; the national rate has declined a bit more modestly during that time, from 8 to 4.9 percent.
Jobless rates are tricky as they can be easily manipulated; as an example, when people leave the labor force, they are no longer part of the algebra, so the jobless rate drops, giving a false reading. But the labor participation rate in North Carolina now is at 61.6 percent, only slightly worse than the 61.9 percent mark in January 2013, so its effect on the lower jobless rate is negligible.
According to a January news release from McCrory’s office, since he became governor, North Carolina created 263,000 jobs, the sixth highest number in the United States. According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, there were about 184,000 more people working in June than in January 2013.
Expect McCrory to talk a lot about the economy in the run-up to the election, as well as budget surpluses, fattening the state’s rainy day fund, and better teacher pay.
Expect Cooper to talk about the inherent bigotry of the Republicans’ HB2, which went far beyond making people use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. It also rolled back workplace protections for members of the LBGT community, and lawmakers left Raleigh without righting that wrong.
That will probably be done in the courts, but not in advance of the election.
An irony is that except for HB2, the state’s economy would be in even better shape. It’s hard to measure how much, but we know the loss of the NBA All-Star Game cost Charlotte a $100 million windfall, dollars that would have spread out across the Queen City, strengthening existing businesses and helping to create new jobs.
Right now polls show that Cooper and McCrory are almost tied in the race, and there are other factors to consider as well, especially turnout during a year when both presidential candidates have people thinking about sitting this one out.
But barring a sudden and unforeseen downturn in the economy, we should know on Nov. 9 if North Carolinians care more about their financial well-being than who uses which bathroom and other bigotry enshrined in HB2.