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Why 'The Economy' Isn't Good News for Democrats

You're unlikely to hear people in a breadline singing "Happy Days Are Here Again." (Image: via

The Washington Post is having some trouble figuring out why more Americans aren't enthusiastic about the state of the economy, and why they're not giving Barack Obama and Democratic politicians more credit for turning things around. But it's not so hard to figure out.

I caught the first glimpse of this in a piece on October 3, which led with this:

The US economy is back on solid ground six years after the Great Recession, new data showed Friday, but President Obama and other Democrats are struggling to convince voters ahead of the midterm elections that they deserve the credit for the rebound.

Liberal columnist E.J. Dionne picked up the theme in an October 5 piece:

"Happy Days Are Here Again" is one of the most evocative anthems in the history of the Democratic Party. You have to ask: Why aren't the Democrats, and the country, singing it loudly now?

A party controlling the White House could not ask for much more from economic numbers than the Democrats got in Friday's jobs report, issued a month and a day before the midterm elections.

And the Post's Steven Mufson wrote a piece (10/9/14)–headlined "When It Comes to the Economy, Obama Has a Bush Problem"–that wrestles with the same question:

President Obama is pleading with the American people to give him some more credit for the economy's recovery. If history is any guide, he won't get it, and his party will pay the price this fall.

Mufson runs through some possible explanations, then gets to this:

A couple theories abound: Median income hasn't recovered. Wealth has continued to decline. Jobs don't feel as secure, with far more part-timers out there who want full-time jobs.

Well, that sounds like a pretty solid theory. Interestingly, the first Post piece I mentioned, just four paragraphs after wondering why Barack Obama wasn't getting credit, noted this:

But complicating his message are stagnant wage growth, lost wealth and the stubbornly high number of long-term unemployed — statistics that Republicans have been quick to note.

In other words, the public's unwillingness to cheer as loudly as some pundits want them to doesn't seem that hard to decode: People aren't doing well. Dionne writes that Democrats "face two problems in getting voters to sing a joyous song." The first one he mentions is that things are good for voters–"the very improvement in the economy means that it is a less central concern to voters than it was when Obama took office"–but the second one makes more obvious sense: The fact that "voters who are still concerned about the economy tend to be focused not on its successes but on what it is failing to do for them."

That's the thing: Voters who aren't doing well aren't likely to feel likely the economy's doing well. You can wonder why they hold these misperceptions, or you can decide that they know very well how they're doing. Economist Dean Baker points this out today (Beat the Press, 10/10/14), under the headline "Great Mystery at the Post, Why Are People Without Jobs Unhappy About the Economy?" He writes:

While Mufson seeks out expert analysis to try to resolve this paradox, he might try looking at the data for a moment. No one sees the economy. They don't what the rate of growth is unless they read about it in the newspaper. What they do know is whether they have a job, whether their job is secure and their pay is rising.

Some stories aren't that hard to figure out. As Baker notes, "The real question here is why any serious people would have any question about why the public is sour on the economy."

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Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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