With all the political spin, polarization, and cynicism that accompanies much of the chatter about Campaign 2012, it’s easy to lose sight of what Election Day represents. At the Marist Poll at Marist College, the election season (which seems to get longer and longer) is a time to engage our students and provide a “laboratory” to understand democracy in action.
Since last fall, more than 500 Marist College undergraduates spoke first hand to voters across the country about their views on the presidential election, the economy, foreign policy and important issues and events of the day. As part of our partnership with NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, these students also got to focus their efforts on first, the opinions of voters in Republican primary states and, then, voters in nine critical battleground states.
In collaboration with the McClatchy News Service, we spoke to Americans about their hopes, concerns, and solutions for solving many problems facing the country. We found a consensus of values and a multiplicity of solutions. But, more importantly, agreement that compromise was needed and attainable.
All told, over 100,000 people across the nation took the time, one by one, to share their experiences, opinions, and intentions. We are grateful. Although polls are often characterized as villainess inanimate objects for political spin, we and our students know and have a connection with the spirited and very real individuals from all walks of life who participated in sharing their thoughts.
We also value transparency. The Marist Poll team worked tirelessly to make sure all the survey information, toplines, internals, and methods were detailed and accessible. If we missed something, survey questions were answered and information provided. But, with transparency comes responsibility. A warning to those who choose to use transparency to distort: a knowledgeable public will not tolerate such mischaracterizations for long. We will continue to explain, inform, and hopefully enlighten.
So, thank you to all who participated in this statistical chronicle of Campaign 2012. Regardless of whether or not your candidate won, we hope you will continue to be energized to speak your opinions and make your voice heard. To quote President Lincoln, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.” That’s how democracy works!
Whatever happened to this election being about the economy and only the economy? Well, the summer months ushered in a slew of back and forth arguments between the Obama and Romney campaigns which had little to do with what Romney hoped would be a referendum on President Obama and the stalled economic recovery.
Instead of staying on his jobs message, we’ve witnessed a Romney campaign having to handle Supreme Court decisions on immigration and health care, his role with Bain Capital, outsourcing, Swiss bank accounts, the reluctance to release his income tax returns, a gaffe-filled trip to Europe, and recently, candidate Akin’s misguided comments on abortion and rape. Even the GOP convention has been delayed by the threat of Hurricane Isaac.
This week will be Romney’s best chance to reintroduce himself to the American electorate and, along with Congressman Ryan, re-direct the discussion back to jobs. Next week will be President Obama’s chance to provide a clear rationale for his re-election.
And then, next Friday, mere hours following Obama’s acceptance speech, the government will issue the latest jobs numbers. If the picture remains as unattractive as the last few months have shown, expect the Romney-Ryan team to pounce on the figures and take the offense. So far, that hasn’t come easy for them, but they would be well advantaged to fill the weeks between the conventions and the debates with as much discussion about the economy as they can.
With recent public polls showing many Americans unaware of the SCOTUS health care decision, it gives pause for thought. How much attention does the public really pay to news coverage of issues thought to shape Decision ’12?
Let’s take a different example. Aside from the partisan spin that accompanied the latest 8.2% Labor Department offering, is this figure what Americans rely on to determine if the economy is on the mend, stalled, or deteriorating, or is there something else that’s working on the American psyche?
For arguments sake, let’s put the unemployment numbers on hold. Do people base their economic assessments more on their own financial circumstances? Are they having difficulty making ends meet? Are they worried about paying their mortgage? Or, is it a chat with friends or neighbors that shapes their views?
There are many factors that shape public opinion. Debate which follows news of each D.C. stat must go hand in hand with more personal indicators to paint a comprehensive picture of public opinion. This will help us understand Americans’ pessimism about current economic circumstances yet growing optimism that the worst may be over.
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.
In matters both athletic and political, the best defense is always the best offense. With the rapidly escalating gas wars threatening to engulf campaign 2012, it seems the Obama team is trying to do just that. Faced with some serious incoming about soaring fuel costs from GOPers Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich, President Obama is promoting his energy policies this week with a trip to three swing states – Ohio, New Mexico, and Nevada – as well as Oklahoma, the starting point for the southern half of the Keystone pipeline. In so doing, Politico’s Darren Goode writes that Obama hopes to exorcise the Keystone and Solyndra demons.
The president has already satirized the $2.50 a gallon price tag that has been advanced by one presidential wannabe and has put the $4 billion oil company subsidy on the table. Clearly, both of these positions are taken from the campaign consultants’ counterattack playbook. Let’s not forget Obama poking fun at the opponents of renewable fuel as being akin to membership in the “world is flat” society.
Good enough. But, Americans are reminded of the energy crisis and their pain at the pump every time their gas gauges approach empty. Who’s to blame? Will rising gas prices emerge as the 2012 campaign equivalent of the financial crisis of 2008? We will be looking at these and other questions in our upcoming national survey. The stakes are getting higher, as well.
One of the most interesting numbers from Marist’s poll of New York State deals with those who now believe the worst of the state’s financial failings are behind us. As recently as this past November, only 42% thought that we had turned the economic corner. Now, 52% see things in a more rosy picture. Are we about to turn the page on public perceptions about the sluggish economy?
There’s evidence from other questions in this survey that this may, in fact, be the case. 26% currently think the state’s economy is on the upswing, double the proportion who shared this view in November. 30% think their family finances are improving while only 15% think their money matters are getting worse.
Many New Yorkers are still having difficulty making ends meet. The unemployment numbers still point to talk of an economic recovery as being fragile, at best. And, although improved, 72% continue to think we remain mired in an economic recession.
But, the numbers do represent a change. And, that is a welcome sign for those who have long awaited an improvement on the economic front.
News about the drop in median incomes is about as unwelcome as the final notice by a bill collector. But, how surprising is it? In the latest national Marist Poll, 64% of Americans tell us they have difficulty making ends meet. The figure rises to 76% for those with annual household incomes below $50,000. This is not a pretty picture.
Matters are even more unpleasant when considering the 72% of Americans who think their personal family finances will stay the same in the coming year or get worse. 77% of Americans also think unemployment next year will remain at its current unacceptable high level or be even higher.
The only oddity in these numbers, as far as the public is concerned, is the report that family income has deteriorated more in the two years since the recession officially ended than it did during the recession itself. Maybe that has something to do with the growing gap in income Americans are experiencing. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that 75% of Americans don’t share the view that the recession is over.
You have to go back to the 1940′s to find a time of zero net job growth. And yet, that’s the current dismal state of economic affairs. Anyway you slice the numbers, 9.1% unemployment coupled with an additional 9 million Americans who are underemployed, that is working part-time but seeking full-time employment, adds up to a sorry jobs picture. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts at least 8 percent unemployment until 2014. That certainly doesn’t put any minds at ease.
And, leave it to the economists to provide less than comforting predictions. The “official” end to this “Great Recession” supposedly occurred more than two years ago, as if Americans share that view. Now, the period of slower than expected growth has given rise to talk of a “double dip” recession. USA TODAY recently noted that many economists are upping the odds that this is likely to occur. “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
But, will Washington come to the rescue? With endless discussion over the debt ceiling, President Obama and the GOP Congress seem to have finally discovered that jobs matter greatly to Americans. And, here we go again. More battles, less policy, and all, so it seems, with an eye to the 2012 elections.
While Washington continues to do what Washington does badly… namely, negotiate budget deals… Americans are impatiently waiting for our national political leaders to provide some relief from this long-lasting economic slump. I suspect people aren’t finding much solace either in the economic jargon frequently bandied about in an effort to help Americans grasp what they are already experiencing.
A few examples come to mind. The latest popular phrase that causes Americans angst is “double dip recession.” Despite the official “end” to the recession two years ago, the public isn’t buying it. In fact, 75% of Americans in the latest Marist-McClatchy national survey think the U.S. economy remains in a recession. A double dip? Not if you don’t think the first one has ended yet.
This isn’t the only offering of termonomics that makes people edgy. It’s helpful hints to economic understanding like underemployment, stagflation, and the misery index that also come to mind.
Maybe an effort should be made to cut back on the losing lexicon of lousy economics and express money matters in ways that better capture the realities of people trying to make ends meet. Several findings from our recent national survey might be enlightening. First, 53% Americans think that regarding the U.S. economy the worst is yet to come. Second, 72% of Americans expect their personal family finances to remain the same or get worse in the coming year. This figure is largely unchanged since President Obama took office. And finally, 39% of people describe the cost of living in their state as not very affordable or not affordable at all.
Hopefully, that provides a little clarity to what’s going on financially outside the budget deliberations. Sorry, but we didn’t ask about a double dip recession.
You’d think with the “official” economic recession long over, according to the calculations of economists, and with President Obama and Wall Street imploring the Congress not to do anything to disrupt the supposed economic rebound, that maybe, just maybe, it would show up in the national poll numbers. Well, hold onto your seats, folks, because it doesn’t!
About 7 in 10 Americans, according to the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll, still believe the nation is mired in an economic recession. Admittedly, this represents a drop from the 79% who felt this way in December, but, it’s consistent with the 71% who shared this view in January.
And, what about the future? A majority of Americans, 57%, think the worst is yet to come for the U.S. economy. Only 39% tell us the worst is behind us. That’s a flip in the numbers from January when the holiday economic bounce led 39% of people to think the worst was yet to come but an encouraging 54% thought the worst had passed.
Although people divide between those who think their personal finances will get better or worse in the coming year, this isn’t exactly anything to write home about. Instead, it’s a departure from prior polls when more people thought their personal finances would improve in the future instead of worsen.
How does this translate for President Obama and his re-election prospects? Well, already 57% of voters nationwide disapprove of his handling of the economy, typically an ominous sign for an incumbent. But, voters don’t yet blame him for sky-rocketing gas prices, and by more than 2 to 1 they think these economic conditions are mostly something he inherited rather than the result of his own policies. Expect the president to periodically remind voters of this perception as he transitions into campaign mode.