Public Opinion on the Economy
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TERENCE SMITH: Jim, Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center, has been polling voters’ opinions about the economy. He joins me now.
Andy, the economy is obviously a huge issue in the campaign and it will be a central theme in this convention. When you talk to voters, what’s their view of it?
ANDREW KOHUT: It’s pretty negative. Only about 33 percent of the voters that we questioned in August said the economy is in excellent or good shape. 65 percent said fair or poor. And that’s been the way it’s been for almost two years now.
Now take us back four years ago instead of 33 percent, we had 74 percent saying the national economy was in good shape. That’s a very big difference. That was an exceptional time. Back in ’96 when Clinton won re-election it was 50 percent positive. Pretty good. Better than Bush is doing now.
But back in ’92 when President Bush’s father lost, it was 10 percent. So Bush is doing better than his father. In terms of the voters’ attitudes towards the economy but not as well as Clinton was in ’96 when he won reelection
TERENCE SMITH: And when you talk to voters, what are the top economic concerns that they tick off?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, jobs, jobs, jobs. That comes out in all of the open-ended questions. We’ve been polling voters over the past two years. What’s the job market like in your local community? Only about 35 percent say jobs are plentiful. A majority say the job market is not so good here. There’s been some expectation that that is going to improve. It has not improved.
Number two, are rising gasoline prices: Gasoline prices figure into this perception that the economy is not good. It’s a real drain on the economies of middle class voters.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, other issues that are being raised here tonight, Andy, include such things as AIDS, the battle on AIDS. We’ve just heard about that — on gay marriage. And these issues, when you look at both Republicans and voters generally, how do they play?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, they’re secondary to the big issues — the big issues being the foreign policy issues, concerns about security in Iraq and the economy. Now this is a special election. We haven’t had an election since 1972 where the economy was so secondary to international concerns. But still the economy does not go away as a principal concern. It certainly trumps the so- called cultural issues.
TERENCE SMITH: Now do these voters suggest when they tell you that they’re not happy with the way the economy is going that they believe that Sen. John Kerry could do any better?
ANDREW KOHUT: Well, for the most part over the last three months people have been and most polls have said by a good margin they had more confidence in Kerry than Bush to improve the economy. That’s really Bush’s weakness and Kerry’s strength. That’s been the case and could be the case right up to Election Day.
TERENCE SMITH: One other point that’s going to… of course, we’re going to hear from Laura Bush this evening. When you ask people about Laura Bush, what’s their view of her?
ANDREW KOHUT: Extremely popular. 70 percent have a very favorable view of her. And in these polarized times even a majority of Democrats say they like her. She’s one of the most popular first ladies, the only first lady to be equally popular was her mother-in-law, Barbara Bush. The two Bush first ladies have been the most popular since — over the past two or three decades.
TERENCE SMITH: And then of course the big headliner tonight, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has achieved what you would call national status?
ANDREW KOHUT: I think he’s not a national figure in the sense of being a political figure. He’s still a popular icon but he’s getting a lot of attention and people are attracted to a dynamic, moderate Republican, so I’m sure many ordinary voters are keeping an eye on him, but, you know, he’s not in the Rudy Giuliani class yet.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Well, we’re going to hear from him later tonight. Thanks very much, Andy Kohut.