With GDP growth having finally returned, but unemployment still rising slowly toward 10 percent, the economy is at a sensitive juncture as an issue for the 2010 elections. Almost half of voters in the 60 most competitive Democratic and Republican congressional districts now rate their personal finances positively and half believe the economic recovery plan passed by Congress and signed by the president will have a positive impact. Yet, only 16 percent have a positive view of the current economy and only a third think the economy is “starting” to improve. Independents are particularly pessimistic on economic issues, with important consequences for the midterm elections.
That half in these swing (but Republican-leaning) districts believe that President Obama’s economic recovery plan could help suggests the economy could break in favor of Democrats, but the country is not ready to listen to a narrative about how Democrats have brought the economy “back from the brink” and averted an even worse disaster, as articulated by the president in his joint session address to Congress earlier this year. That leaves a lot of receptivity to Republican messages that focus on wasted spending and exploding deficits. On the other hand, focusing on the specific benefits in the stimulus package that have helped working Americans through the crisis and on rebalancing the economy so it works for the middle class (not just the wealthy) has a much bigger impact and effectively challenges the Republican narrative.
These results are based on a new survey by Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research across the 60 most marginal congressional districts (40 Democratic-controlled and 20 Republican-held).
With the specter of a second Great Depression behind us, our economy growing again, the Dow having briefly cracked 10,000 and some TARP recipients repaying their loans, some Democrats have begun tentatively taking credit for the beginning of an economic turnaround. While voters think that could eventually be true, they are far from entertaining the idea that the economy is fundamentally improving, at least in any way that they can feel. They may well punish politicians who get ahead of themselves, look out of touch and, more important, fail to talk about the on-going help from the recovery package that counters the Republican interpretation about spending.