Mixed Economic Message


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The President and the Democrats are indeed doing very well at the outset of 2012, and the Republicans are doing pitifully. They are not unrelated. Republicans in Congress and in the primary battles are driving independents into the Democrats’ camp and consolidating and energizing parts of the progressive base. There is improved optimism about the macro economy and the President’s approval rating is up to 50 percent.

But Democrats should keep their wits. Nearly all the gains have been produced by the Republican slide, not Democratic gains. Both parties and politicians are reviled. And most important, the voter has not seen personal economic gains and Democrats are no more trusted on handling the economy - the heart of this election. Some of the emerging Democratic messages are on target, but others miss what is really happening and pose considerable risks. The on-target messages set up an effective electoral choice around the middle class, but the off-target ones could give the Republican nominee a platform for challenging the President’s economic record.

Voters are still very negative about the economy and their lives and a large majority of 56 percent want a change of economic direction.

Key Findings

Voters report no improvement since last June in their job situation, experience with reduced wages and benefits, and health insurance coverage. Fewer have fallen behind on their mortgages, but this is a weak recovery at the personal level. 

While Republicans have collapsed on nearly everything, 44 percent continue to trust them on the economy - unchanged over four surveys back to August. Just 40 percent trust the Democrats on the economy - about the same as the party’s average for 2011. The stubbornness of the Democrats’ disadvantage on the economy should be a lesson if they are really to prevail. These are still tough economic times. 

Thus, it is critical that Democrats get to the right economic narrative that allows the President and progressives to identify with what is happening in the country, create an aspiration for the country and the middle class and pose a big choice with the Republican nominee. 

Based on the State of the Union dial group research and this new national survey, we have to say the jury is out on the Democrats’ current economic narratives.

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Written by Stan Greenberg, James Carville, Erica Seifert