Economic Anxiety and Bush
The University of Michigan's preliminary March reading of consumer sentiment shows consumer confidence dropping again, just as it did in February. All the more reason to pay heed to the findings of the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which indicate economic anxiety is likely to play a large role in the November election, and all to Bush's detriment.
The poll has Bush's approval rating on the economy at 45 percent approval/51 percent disapproval, down from 49/45 in January. In addition, the poll now shows more saying the economy has gotten worse in the last year (35 percent) than say it has gotten better (33 percent). That's a substantial shift from January when 43 percent said the economy has gotten better and only 23 percent said iit had gotten worse.
And economic issues, such as jobs and economic growth, will be most important, according to respondents, in deciding their November vote (36 percent), followed by domestic issues, such as health and education (27 percent) and only then by national defense issues, such as Iraq and the war on terror (18 percent). That's 65 percent saying they're going to vote on the basis of Bush's two weakest areas.
Ah, but do they hold Bush responsible for the state of the economy? After all, his favorite mantra these days is that continuing economic problems are just the lingering effects of 9/11 and the situation he inherited from the Clinton administration. This poll indicates those pesky voters may hold him responsible, despite his efforts to wiggle out of it: 30 percent say his policies are mainly responsible for the state of the economy and another 50 percent say they are partially responsible.
But the really bad news for Bush is has to do with the kinds of economic problems people are upset about and their attitude toward his tax cuts. The poll presented people with six controversial elements of the US economy and the three people said were most important to their evaluation of the economy were "the number of jobs moving overseas", "jobs for lower-paid workers that lack health and retirement benefits' and the budget deficit, all areas of very serious weakness for Bush. Moreover, when asked for their feelings about these economic elements and presented with four choices about that, ranging from very cheerful to very gloomy, only 4 percent selected the cheerful option (these elements don't represent a problem today and in the future and America has the same economic security it always has had), compared to 47 percent who selected the gloomy option (these elements are a major problem today and in the future and America no longer has the economic security it had in the past).
As for the tax cuts, 59 percent still say they have either hurt the economy (23 percent) or had no real effect (36 percent). And, by 55 percent to 39 percent, people say the tax cuts are too large and should be repealed for those with over $200,000 in income (Kerry's position), rather than that the tax cuts are the right size and should all be kept and made permanent (Bush's position).
OK. That's the playing field. But how can the Democrats take maximum advantage of Bush's vulnerabilities in this area? As the typically insightful Ronald Brownstein put it in his latest Los Angeles Times column:
Many Democrats agree Kerry has to flesh out his own ideas for stimulating job growth (which now center on tax credits for manufacturers, grants to states, a tougher line on trade and reducing employers' healthcare costs).
But even if Kerry holds up a blank piece of paper as his recovery plan, it will be tough for Bush to win an argument about the economy unless job growth revives.
He may be right about that blank sheet of paper. But I'd like to think we can do better. I'll offer my thoughts on how to do this tomorrow. In the meantime, the floor is open for suggestions: how exactly should the Democrats address the jobs/outsourcing issue?