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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jobs and the Economy Still Rule

Americans are still fixated on the economy and jobs as the biggest problem facing the nation. Here’s a view of our May Gallup update on Americans' views of the most important problems facing the nation, as summarized by my colleague Lydia Saad:

You see immediately that financial issues still are highly likely to come to mind when Americans are asked to name the most important problem: the economy in general, jobs, lack of money, the deficit.

Other polls are finding the same thing. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll recently read their respondents a list of problems and found that the number one choice for the “top priority for the federal government” was “job creation and economic growth” (followed by the deficit). A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll found an even higher percentage choosing the economy and jobs as the top priority “for the federal government to be working on right now.”

Definite signs now that the economy is picking up. Despite the government’s report of an increase in jobless claims on Thursday, Gallup’s Job Creation Index continues to be more positive now than previously this year or last year for the most part. This week the Index has been at +10 for two days in a row (three-day rolling averages) . . . as high as we have seen it since late November 2008.

More jobs beget higher confidence and more spending. The latter is up -- based on our indicators. In fact, a May update shows that the percent of Americans who say they enjoy saving rather than spending has decreased rather than increased.

What does this indicate for the Democrats this fall? My colleague Jeff Jones argues that the issue this year is more anti-incumbent sentiment than it is anti-Democrat sentiment.  The conventional wisdom has been that Democrats control the House and the Senate, and therefore are viewed more as the incumbents and therefore have more to gain if Americans perceive that things are looking up economically speaking.  We'll see how that works out. 

The importance of the jobs issue was clear in the Pennsylvania Senate race this past week...when the campaign consultants for the victor, Rep. Joe Sestak, cleverly came up with a memorable slogan about his opponent Sen. Arlen Specter -- the incumbent senator who had earlier changed parties from Republican to Democratic.  The tagline to a key 30-second ad was as follows: "Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job . . . HIS, not yours."

Although this ad primarily (and apparently highly effectively) focused on Specter's party switch, the undercurrent remained a focus on jobs. 

In the Pennsylvania 12th district, the victor, Mark Critz, heavily emphasized jobs in his winning campaign over his Republican candidate.

We can expect more and continued focus on the economy.  As I've noted before, one potential problem for the Demcorats is the tension between claims that government intervention has helped fix the economy -- and concerns on the part of Americans that this government intervention is an actual symptom of the problem.


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