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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Public Opinion and the Economy

It is often suggested that the struggling economy is a giant millstone around the neck of the Democratic donkey, which can’t do much about it because widespread fears of rising federal budget deficits have taken most remedial options off the table.
But a new survey from Hart Research Associates, asking some well-framed questions, paints a different picture of public opinion on the economy. Americans are still more worried about unemployment than budget deficits, still blame George W. Bush more than Barack Obama for current conditions, and are open to further action by the federal government.
Even self-identified Republicans rate unemplomyent as a bigger concern than deficits by a margin of 51%-42%, and overall, only 27% of Americans consider deficits as among the one or two most important economic problems facing the country. Even so, Americans blame the Bush administration as opposed to the Obama administration for current budget deficits by a 52%-27% margin (45%-27% among self-identified independents).
Meanwhile, 83% of Americans consider unemployment to be either a “very big problem” or a “fairly big problem.” A remarkable 68% of people in rural areas rate unemployment as a “very big problem,” which is a reminder that some parts of the country have been struggling economically for a long while, and don’t necessarily view the recession as having suddenly emerged last year.
Moreover, the recession is a very personal thing to vast numbers of Americans, with 44% claimiing that someone in their own household has either been laid off or has had hours or pay cut in the last year. This number rises to 54% among Hispanics.
Perceptions of this year’s stimulus package are more positive than you might expect, though not very strong; 53% said it had helped the economy a little, and 12% a lot, while only 16% bought the conservative argument that it had hurt the economy. Unsurprisingly, voters oppose the now-common Republican idea of freezing further stimulus spending by a 55%-39% margin. And in a parallel finding, Americans favor the economy strategy of “creating jobs and investing” over one of “shrinking government spending” by a 61%-36% margin.
At a time when sweeping generalizations about public opinion on the economy are far too prevelant, this new research from Hart is well worth reading and pondering.

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