Despite recent decreases
in energy prices, low unemployment levels, surging stock markets and domestic
production that has outpaced other major industrialized nations, polls show Americans
are still most concerned about the future of the economy.
As Nov. 7 elections
approach, voters' concern about the economy is pushing candidates to include economic
messages as part of their campaign platforms.
large number of voters have a definite foreboding about the economy, and that
isn't good news for incumbents," Gregory Casey, CEO of the bipartisan, pro-business
Business-Industry Political Action Committee, told The Washington Post.
conducted in August by CNN and Fox show the economy is the primary election issue
for all voters -- ahead of Iraq and terrorism -- though Republican voters tend
to view Iraq as their No. 1 issue.
A summer Gallup poll found consumer optimism
at a five-year low, with less than one-quarter of Americans believing that the
economy is improving. Rasmussen Reports statistics show the consumer confidence
index has been dropping since the start of the year.
Rather than judging
the economy on indicators, Americans tend to view it as a pocketbook issue as
they work to balance their incomes against inflation, energy price swings, debt,
and rising health and tuition costs.
Seventy-two percent of voters are worried
about prices rising in general, according to Rasmussen Reports. In the push to
stem inflation, the Federal Reserve Board increased interest rates 17 times over
a two-year period before holding them steady in August. Though their efforts may
be leading the U.S. economy to a "soft landing," the once-booming housing
market has been hurt as a result.
The Democratic Party has released plans
they call "A New Direction for America" and "The American Dream
Initiative" that would raise the minimum wage, secure pensions, reduce costs
of college education and health care, and move toward foreign oil independence.
meanwhile, point to existing tax cuts, fiscal responsibility and investment in
research to keep America competitive in a global marketplace, as well as strong
economic indicators such as job growth.
"Only liberal Democrats ...
could attack an economy that has produced 5.4 million jobs in the last three years,
grew 5.6 percent in the first quarter of this year, increased payroll employment
in 47 states, and is the envy of the industrialized world," Danny Diaz, an
RNC spokesman, told the Associated Press.
Led by strength in the banking
and information technology industries, economic growth in 2005 was strong in the
western and Rocky Mountain states, as measured by the gross domestic product.
The Gulf Coast states hit by hurricanes and the Midwest fared the worst.
running in states with suffering economies realize that to win over voters, they
need to offer plans to address economic concerns.
In Michigan, a state
grappling with a floundering auto industry and the site of one of the country's
tightest gubernatorial races, last year's economic growth surpassed only hurricane-devastated
Louisiana. And while national unemployment rates have been decreasing, Michigan's
unemployment rate has been rising since 2002. At 7.1 percent, it's now the nation's
Michigan's first-term Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, hopes
her "Jobs Today, Jobs Tomorrow" plan that invests in infrastructure,
education and health care -- and lays blame on federal economic policies for Michigan's
failures -- will best Republican businessman Dick DeVos' emphasis on tax reform,
industry diversification and international competitiveness to create jobs.
a time when economic management is on the minds of voters, challengers with corporate
experience like DeVos are faring well in key Senate and gubernatorial races in
New England. In Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont, a cable industry entrepreneur,
is emphasizing his business successes in a tight race with Republican lawyer Alan
Schlesinger and incumbent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat who now labels himself
an independent in order to continue his campaign following his primary defeat.
South Carolina, where the unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation
and where 41 percent of the residents say the economy is the biggest issue, both
the incumbent Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and Democrat challenger Thomas Moore
are emphasizing tax cuts for individuals and small businesses to stimulate job
The Gulf Coast states are facing different sorts of economic crises.
According to the Census Bureau, Texas has the highest rate of uninsured in the
nation and Mississippi is coping with the largest poverty rates at a time when
its economy is focused on rejuvenation in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina.
Arizona, which saw the strongest gross state product growth in 2005, the economy
isn't the biggest issue -- immigration is, according to Rasmussen Reports. In
order to address the issue of the economy, Arizona Democrat senatorial challenger
Jim Pederson's platform seeks not to save the economy but support its growth with
a message of energy independence.
The outcome of the 2006 midterm elections
could turn on voters' perception of their state's economy as much as their perceptions
of political parties, other issues, or even the U.S. economy as a whole.