If Illinois is a good indicator, President Bush must convince more voters they're better off than they were four years ago to win a second term.
In a survey conducted by the Daily Southtown, the Chicago Sun-Times' sister newspaper, 50 percent of likely primary voters said they are not better off today -- a direct correlation to their presidential preference. Three out of four voters who feel they're worse off picked U.S. Sen. John Kerry over Bush.
Overall, Kerry -- who is expected to visit Chicago on Tuesday -- continues to lead Bush in Illinois 52 percent to 39 percent.
When asked if they believed the nation was in a recession, 39 percent of those polled answered "yes," even though the recession actually ended two years ago.
For Rich Olson, the economy will be a deciding factor in his vote. A 64-year-old from Chicago Heights, Olson cashed in some mutual funds and delayed retirement after the stock market bubble burst.
"It hurts," he said. "I pushed off taking my Social Security [benefits] so I wouldn't lose that money. I'm close [to retirement now], another year."
The national economy has lost 2.2 million jobs since Bush took office. Unemployment stood at 5.6 percent last month.
"The thing that drives election outcomes overall is essentially how people feel about their own economic future. The fact that a plurality actually feel we're in a recession speaks very poorly about how people perceive the Bush economic strategy," said David Wilhelm, onetime campaign manager for President Bill Clinton and chairman of the Kerry campaign in Illinois.
Republicans, however, cautioned that anti-Bush sentiment remains artificially high after months of Bush-bashing from Democratic presidential hopefuls.
"The Democrats have had nothing but free air time for two to three months, basically attacking the president," said Jason Gerwig, spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party. "Now that Kerry is out there, we're starting to see their differences."
The economy's jobless recovery hurt Bob Bartkowski, a 25-year-old Navy reservist from Oak Forest, but he doesn't blame Bush.
After graduating with a degree he thought he could use in his hometown's parks and recreation department, Bartkowski quickly discovered there weren't any jobs. Now he's training to be a salesman for 3M, where his father works.
The poll of 1,500 likely primary voters was conducted Wednesday night by Rasmussen Reports of Ocean Grove, N.J. It has a margin of error of 3 percent. The recession survey question came from a Rasmussen poll of Feb. 3 through March 2, with a 4 percent margin of error.
Copyright © The Sun-Times Company