Every 20 years or so something punches through the chattering class, and its shelf-life seems timeless. For an earlier generation, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” took the crown, followed by Carter’s “Malaise,” and perhaps, Reagan’s “I am paying for this microphone” proclamation. Since then, the classic, “It’s the economy stupid!” tops the list of campaign bottom lines.
For campaign 2012, this refrain is once again ringing clear. In the latest round of NBC News/Marist swing states polls, all things economic eclipsed everything else including social issues. But, voters are not marching in line behind any single definition of what it is about the economy that will be this year’s “inflection point,” to use an already overused 2012 expression.
The electorate is not only very polarized along party lines about the candidates, but they have differing views about the condition of the economy. What we’ve observed from voters so far is a grab-bag of economic goo.
Voters continue to think President Obama inherited the economic mess from President Bush. As far as the economy is concerned, they think the worst is behind. In other words, the fiscal glass is half-full; score one for optimism and the president’s re-election chances.
Yet, the share of the electorate who think that the economy is likely to improve in the next 12 months doesn’t break 40%, and only about one-third tell us their personal finances are likely to improve anytime soon. To make matters even cloudier, a majority thinks the nation is headed in the wrong direction. There goes the optimism; score one for challenger Romney.
How does this all add up at present? Voters split between Obama and Romney on the matter of who is best able to handle the economy. The bottom line: this is going to be a close contest. But, you don’t need a rocket scientist or pollster to figure that out.