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The economy is improving, so why aren’t voters embracing the optimism?

October 30, 2014 at 6:30 PM EST
The U.S. economy appears to be on the upswing, consumer confidence and growth are up and the jobless rate is down. But polls show that voters’ feelings about the economy lag behind the signs of improvement. Gwen Ifill talks to NewsHour political director Domenico Montanaro about some of the races that will most affected by the economy.
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GWEN IFILL: As we reported earlier in the broadcast, the U.S. economy appears to be on the upswing, consumer confidence and growth up, the jobless rate down. Voters should be embracing the optimism, right? Not so much. And that might mean bad news for Democrats this coming Tuesday night.

NewsHour political director Domenico Montanaro joins me to explain why.

How do economic issues rank with voters this year?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, it’s always at the top of the list for voters.

We’re seeing in the recent AP poll 91 percent of people said that it was an important issue, more so than any other issue. But we often find that voters and their confidence of what happens based on the economy and elections, they kind of lag behind often what is some of these more positive signs in a lot of these economic indicators.

GWEN IFILL: We just heard the report from Alaska. Which states where there are big elections going on are affected the most by the economy?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Well, we know that there are 28 states in the country that — where the national unemployment — where the state unemployment rate is actually higher than the national rate.

And that’s pretty fascinating, because, of those, there are nine of the 17 most competitive Senate races that — where the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. And that can cut both ways. We know that, nationally, about two-thirds of people say that the country is headed off on the wrong track.

Only about 38 percent said in a CNN poll that they thought that the economy was doing well. And you had another high percentage of people saying that they really feel like the country being off on the wrong track, not doing very well, and that it would impact Democrats potentially for the midterms this time around because of the national mood.

But it can cut both ways, because when we talk about some of these specific races, Georgia in particular, 7.9 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the country of anywhere, and you have a Republican candidate there who is really struggled, a former CEO, to talk about his jobs message.

GWEN IFILL: But what if you’re in a state like — when I was in Colorado — they actually have better than the national average unemployment rate, and yet the Democratic incumbent is still struggling.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Colorado, Iowa, a lot of those places.

But it’s not always just about the economy. I think that’s part of the problem. A lot of times we look at the economy, we look at these numbers, and we want to think that, yes, that’s going to mean this or it’s going to absolutely impact Democrats.

And a lot of times, senators don’t get the kind of credit for the economy. A lot of times governors more so are held to account for this. For example, in Illinois, you’re seeing Governor Quinn, the Democrat there, struggling in the polls, Governor Malloy in Connecticut, a few Democrats who really shouldn’t be doing badly really having a difficult reelection.

GWEN IFILL: How much of this is about the perception of the way people feel about the economy and about the candidates themselves who maybe aren’t articulating the message voters want to hear?

DOMENICO MONTANARO: I think that’s a big, big part of it.

A lot of times, if you’re — if you’re feeling like the country is not doing well or the economy is not doing well, then it winds up being something that does translate. But there’s a whole lot of other issues that people do care about in these states and in these elections.

We have been seeing in these pieces, so often these elections have come down to what Republicans are trying to do is nationalize the election and make it about President Obama and the national political environment, and Democrats trying to localize, like in Colorado and North Carolina and Iowa.

GWEN IFILL: Remember in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid” became the mantra, but it turns out the economy was recovering at the time, but George H.W. Bush still took the hit.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Yes, the economy was starting to recover, as we started to look at.

But the problem is like, as we said earlier, a lot of times, people just kind of lag behind some of these numbers, and it’s not always the case that the economy is definitely what’s the biggest indicator.

GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s one of the many trends we will be watching Tuesday night with you, Domenico. See you then.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: Thank you.

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