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Posts Tagged ‘public opinion’

‘Meh’ Economy Muddies Mid-Term Election Picture

October 3rd, 2014

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It’s the “meh” economy, stupid. 2014 is not a boom year or a bust year. It’s just “meh.”

That’s why President Obama chose his words carefully when he talked about the economy in his CBS 60 Minutes interview last week. “Ronald Reagan used to ask the question, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ In this case, are you better off than you were six [years ago]?” the president said. “The answer is, the country is definitely better off than we were when I came into office.”

Notice that Obama said “the country” is better off. He didn’t say “You’re better off.”

He is right. “The country” is clearly better off. The official unemployment rate has dropped below 6 percent, the lowest level since July 2008, before the Great Recession. Productivity is rising. The economic growth rate for the second quarter was a robust 4.6 percent. And with tax revenues increasing, the federal budget deficit is lower.

“The United States has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan and every other advanced economy combined,” Obama said at Northwestern University Thursday. That’s true. But it won’t do him much good politically. How many American voters will say, “We’re doing better than the Japanese! Woo-hoo!”

President Obama didn’t dare say, “You’ve never had it so good,” because he would have been laughed off the stage. What he did say was, “Our broader economy in the aggregate has come a long way, but the gains of recovery aren’t yet broadly shared.”

That’s also true. Only the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans have seen solid gains in income. The vast majority have not experienced any improvement, and many are facing wage stagnation and declining incomes. President Obama’s argument is that he has policies to help lower-income workers, but congressional Republicans have stubbornly blocked them: a higher minimum wage, equal pay for women, more infrastructure spending. Obama said in his speech that, while he himself is not running this year, “these policies are on the ballot—every single one of them.”

Since 1974, polltakers have been asking Americans, “How well do you think things are going in the country today?” It’s a pretty good indicator of how people see the economy—and how it affects their vote.

When the number who say things are going well is more than 60 percent, it’s a boom year. Incumbents do well at the polls. For instance:

  • 1984, when Reagan declared “Morning in America” and got re-elected (74 percent said things were going well)
  • 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected as “Reagan’s third term” (70 percent)
  • 1996, when Clinton won a second term (67 percent)
  • 2000, when Vice President Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush but didn’t quite make it in the electoral college (79 percent)

When the number who say things are going well dips below 40 percent, it’s a bust year. Incumbents do poorly. Like:

  • 1980, when Jimmy Carter got fired (32 percent said things were going well)
  • 1992, when the first President Bush was laid off (35 percent)
  • 2008, the financial crisis (16 percent, the lowest figure ever)

How many Americans people think things are going well in the country now? Answer: 50 percent, according to a CNN poll. That’s a lot better than 2008, when Obama was elected. It’s even better than 2012, when Obama got re-elected (40 percent). But it’s not exactly a boom. Fifty percent is “meh.”

The “meh” economy is dampening enthusiasm for Democrats among the party’s core constituencies: low-income Americans, minorities, young people and single women. If Democrats are unenthusiastic, Republicans are in a rage. They can’t wait to vote because Obama’s policies have been far more liberal than they can tolerate. Obamacare, for instance, is not a top issue to most voters this year, as it was in 2010. But it is at the core of seething resentment among Republicans.

Democratic candidates are still competitive in many states because they are running hard on social issues, especially women’s rights. The emergence of the New America—young people, educated professionals, single and working women, gays, Latinos and voters with no religious affiliation—has enabled Democrats to use social issues to bludgeon their Republican opponents, just as Republicans used to do to Democrats. Those issues may rally Democrats the same way hatred of President Obama rallies Republicans.

Meanwhile Republican candidates are trying to replicate their surprise victory in the 2002 midterms, when terrorism was at the top of the agenda. Once again, we are hearing charges that Democrats are “soft on terrorism.”

In a “meh” economy, candidates rely on other issues to drive the vote. To quote the wisdom of the late Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It just goes to show you, it’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

This piece was originally published via The Huffington Post.

Elites focus on inequality; real people just want growth

May 6th, 2014

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The economic debate is now sharply focused on the issue of income inequality. That may not be the debate Democrats want to have, however. It’s negative and divisive. Democrats would be better off talking about growth — a hopeful and unifying agenda.

Democrats believe income inequality is a populist cause. But it may be less of a populist issue than an issue promoted by the cultural elite: well-educated professionals who are economically comfortable but not rich. There’s new evidence that ordinary voters care more about growth.

Growth and inequality are not separate issues. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote, “Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena when they are in fact intertwined.  Inequality restrains and holds back our economic growth

The question is whether Democrats want to talk about punitive and confiscatory policies aimed at curbing the power of the wealthy and special interests or an agenda aimed at growing the economy for everyone.

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The Election Results No One is Talking About

November 12th, 2013

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Which is the most important result of Tuesday’s election?

A. A Republican governor won a landslide election in a blue state.

B. A Democrat was elected governor in a purple state during intense criticism of a new federal government program.

C. An outspoken liberal Democrat was elected mayor in a big city — where opposition parties had been in power for 20 years.

D. An education funding amendment lost in a mountain state.

If you said D, you’re correct.

On Tuesday, Amendment 66 was defeated in Colorado, with preliminary results suggesting a drubbing of two-to-one opposed. It would have improved education funding with slight tax increases and changed Colorado’s flat tax to a two-tiered, progressive structure.

The goal was a major overhaul of education finance, with reduced disparities at the local level and increased spending — including funding for early childhood programs, rural education and at-risk youth programs.

Millions of dollars poured into the state to support the amendment. High-profile backing came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Melinda Gates. But the more than $10 million spent in support of the amendment wasn’t enough to convince skeptical voters.

The defeat of Amendment 66 should worry Democrats. This is about as close as you can get to the main thrust of the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda: raise taxes on wealthier people to fund investments in the future.

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Americans Tire of ‘World Police’ Role

September 9th, 2013

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President Obama is trying to pull off a difficult political feat. He is asking Congress to defy public opinion. When Congress is heedless of public opinion, there is always a political price to be paid.

Case in point: the Senate vote to ratify the Panama Canal treaties in 1978. Many years later, President Jimmy Carter called it “the most courageous decision in the history of the U.S. Congress.” And what happened? The public rose up. The issue energized conservatives. Ronald Reagan made the canal his signature cause. His rallying cry: “We built it. We paid for it. It’s ours. And we’re going to keep it.”

The Senate ratified the treaties by a one-vote margin in 1978. And then? Here’s how former President Carter tells the story: “There were twenty senators who voted for the treaties up for re-election in 1978. Only seven of them came back to the Senate the next year.” Another twelve treaty supporters were defeated in 1980, including Democrats Frank Church of Idaho, Birch Bayh of Indiana and George McGovern of South Dakota. Not to mention President Carter himself.

On Syria, public opinion could not be clearer. Americans strongly–and loudly–oppose a military strike. Unfortunately for President Obama, the issue came up when Members of Congress were on their summer recess, most of them in their home districts. Constituents had access to their Representatives. And the Representatives got an earful. Rep. Tom Cole (R-S.C.) told the New York Times, “I literally cannot walk across the parking lot without being stopped to talk about this issue.”

“To say it’s 99 percent against would be overstating the support,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) told the Times. The Washington Post reported this message on the Facebook page of Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.): “The American people DO NOT WANT to get involved in Syria. Are you listening? We will not forget who votes for this garbage.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) warned his colleagues in a tweet, “If you’re voting ‘yes’ on military action in Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

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Fear of Government Rivals Fear of Terrorism

August 12th, 2013

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At his August 9 news conference, President Obama said “People may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that, if [they] haven’t already taken place, take place in a future Administration or as technology is developed further.” Pretty tentative language for an issue that’s exploding on the political scene.

For the first time since 9/11, according to the July Pew poll, more Americans say they are concerned that the government’s anti-terrorism policies “have gone too far in restricting civil liberties” than say that they “have not gone far enough to protect the country.” Concern about civil liberties has jumped from 27% in 2010 to 47% today. That’s the impact of the Edward Snowden revelations.

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Democratic base wants compromise

February 7th, 2013

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Last November, Bob and Evelyn Driscoll waited 90 minutes in line to vote. Standing in a cold drizzle, neither of them were in love with either of the presidential candidates or their congressional representatives. But they were eager to vote because they knew the country faced immense challenges.

They believed the economy was better but still just inching along. Their take-home pay had been basically flat for the past 10 years. They worried that the deficit was standing in the way of America returning to greatness. They wondered whether Social Security and Medicare would be there for their kids — or themselves — when they needed it. And they hoped they had saved enough for retirement and for the ever-increasing cost of college for both of their children.

They stood in the cold until it was their turn to vote. They pulled the lever for the president, and for Democrats in the House and Senate. And if they were able to deliver a short message to each as we cross the threshold into Barack Obama’s second term, it would be this: “Fix it. Work together and fix it.”

The Driscolls aren’t just among a tiny slice of swing voters — they represent millions of moderate and independent voters across Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and throughout America. Most important for the president and Democrats in Congress, they represent the base of the Democratic Party.

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