Vot­ers on the econ­omy

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

With the econ­omy slow­ing, un­em­ploy­ment ris­ing, in­fla­tion ac­cel­er­at­ing, in­fla­tion-ad­justed av­er­age hourly earn­ings stag­nat­ing (for 80 per­cent of the la­bor force), con­sumer con­fi­dence fall­ing, $3-per-gal­lon gas prices ris­ing and the bud­get deficit hov­er­ing around $300 bil­lion per year, the econ­omy prom­ises to play an im­por­tant role in this fall’s midterm elec­tions.

In­deed, when asked in a re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News Poll to iden­tify the “sin­gle most im­por­tant is­sue in your vote for Congress this year,” reg­is­tered vot­ers con­sid­ered the econ­omy (21 per­cent) and gas prices (15 per­cent) to be cu­mu­la­tively (i.e., 36 per­cent) more im­por­tant than the war in Iraq (21 per­cent) or ter­ror­ism (11 per­cent). In a re­cent Newsweek poll, in­de­pen­dents, who com­prise nearly a third of the elec­torate, iden­ti­fied the econ­omy as the most im­por­tant is­sue.

Among the 60 per­cent who told the Wall Street Jour­nal/NBC News Poll that “things are off on the wrong track” (27 per­cent thought the na­tion was “headed in the right di­rec­tion”), 21 per­cent cited the econ­omy, 20 per­cent cited in­creas­ing gas prices, 10 per­cent cited the lack of jobs and 6 per­cent iden­ti­fied the bud­get deficit. When the poll asked re­spon­dents to name the top two pri­or­i­ties the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should ad­dress, job cre­ation/eco­nomic growth was cited by 25 per­cent; en­ergy/cost of gas was cited by 27 per­cent and re­duc­ing the bud­get deficit was cited by 12 per­cent.

The Newsweek poll asked peo­ple which po­lit­i­cal party they trusted to ad­dress a se­ries of is­sues. By 53 per­cent to 34 per­cent, re­spon­dents trusted Democrats more than Repub­li­cans to do a bet­ter job with the econ­omy. On the is­sue of fed­eral spend­ing and the bud­get deficit, Democrats were pre­ferred over Repub­li­cans by 53 per­cent to 29 per­cent. To do a bet­ter job of low­er­ing gas prices, 52 per­cent of the pub­lic trusted Democrats, com­pared to the 25 per­cent who trusted Repub­li­cans. While 37 per­cent ap­proved of the way Pres­i­dent Bush is “han­dling the econ­omy” (61 per­cent dis­ap­proved), ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust AP-Ip­sos poll, only 25 per­cent ap­proved of the way the pres­i­dent was han­dling gaso­line prices. The same poll re­vealed that 51 per­cent would vote for the Demo­cratic can­di­date in their con­gres­sional dis­trict, com­pared to 32 per­cent who sup­ported the Repub­li­can can­di­date. That 19-point Demo­cratic ad­van­tage in Au­gust rep­re­sents an 8-point in­crease from the 47-36 ad­van­tage Democrats en­joyed in May. By 69 per­cent to 29 per­cent, the same poll dis­ap­proved of the way the Repub­li­can­con­trolled Congress was “han­dling its job.”

Asked by the re­cent NewYork Times/CBS News Poll to “rate the con­di­tion of the na­tional econ­omy,” 51 per­cent said it was ei­ther “very good” (5 per­cent) or “fairly good” (46 per­cent), while 47 per­cent rated the econ­omy as “fairly bad” (34 per­cent) or “very bad” (13 per­cent). More omi­nously for Repub­li­cans, only 12 per­cent think the econ­omy is “get­ting bet­ter,” while 47 per­cent feel the econ­omy is “get­ting worse.”

At this stage prior to the 1994 midterm elec­tions, when Repub­li­cans gained 52 seats in the House and also cap­tured con­trol of the Se­nate, 22 per­cent thought the econ­omy was “get­ting bet­ter” and 21 per­cent thought it was “get­ting worse.” By a 48-36 mar­gin, vot­ers told the NYT/CBS poll that the Demo­cratic Party is “more likely [than the Repub­li­can Party] to en­sure a strong econ­omy.”

One of the Democrats’ sig­na­ture eco­nomic is­sues is rais­ing the min­i­mum wage, which, at $5.15 per hour ($10,712 per year for a worker la­bor­ing 40 hours per week for 52 weeks), has not in­creased since 1997, when con­gres­sional salaries were $133,600. This year mem­bers of Congress will be paid $165,200. This $31,600 an­nual-salary in­crease since 1997 rep­re­sents about three times the an­nual in­come ($10,712) of a full-time min­i­mum-wage worker. Not­with­stand­ing the fact that there is a near con­sen­sus among economists (and Repub­li­cans) that rais­ing the min­i­mum wage will re­duce the de­mand for the la­bor of the least skilled, Democrats have been de­mand­ing that the min­i­mum wage be in­creased to $7.25 per hour. Ac­cord­ing to the NYT/CBS poll, 85 per­cent of the pub­lic agrees with the Democrats, with 74 per­cent “strongly fa­vor[ing]” the min­i­mum-wage in­crease.

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