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The voters have a clear and dramatic message for the new Republicans in the Congress and the president on the eve of his State of the Union Address: focus on jobs and the economy and show how America is going to be economically successful again.
This is not a nuanced poll. If Democrats did not get the message in 2010, voters are ready to send a message again, according to the first Democracy Corps-Campaign for America’s Future survey of 2011. The media pundits and Washington conventional wisdom says deficit reduction and cutting government spending are the top priorities for the nation, and the Republican Congress is starting with voting to repeal health care and putting Social Security cuts on the table for the first time. They could not have it more wrong.
This survey was conducted after the January 8 Tucson shooting but mostly before the president’s memorial address January 12.
Here are key findings from the poll:
- When asked to select what they believed were the two most important economic problems facing the country right now, 41 percent said “high unemployment” and 33 percent said “outsourcing of jobs,” the latter capturing the deep worry that America and American corporations are not able or willing to create American jobs. Another 18 percent focused on wages not keeping up with the cost of living. Just 25 percent chose “the budget deficit is big and growing” as one of the top two problems.
- Just 17 percent think the priority of the new Congress should be repealing health care. What respondents did say the Congress should prioritize over the next two years is economic recovery and new jobs (46 percent), protecting Social Security and Medicare (34 percent) and “making sure that our children receive an education for these times (27 percent).
- While deficit reduction is very important, voters want to see a growth strategy. When respondents were offered a choice between brave deficit reduction and a jobs plan to reduce the deficit and achieve growth, they rallied to the later, 58 to 35 percent, with 42 percent strongly embracing growth over austerity. On a scale of zero (cool) to 100 (warm), respondents registered support for a plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country over the next five years (57 warm and 16 cool). They also supported, but not as strongly, a plan to dramatically reduce the deficit over the next five years (52 warm and 20 cool).
- Elected officials have no mandate to cut Social Security—and the voters have no appetite for it: 56 percent of respondents oppose the recommendation of the White House bipartisan deficit commission to raise the retirement age to 69 by 2075.
- On the surface, 56 percent of respondents support a deficit commission goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction by 2020. But a nearly identical bloc (54 percent) hate the plan itself. When they hear the details of the plan, without any rhetoric, they turn dramatically against it.
- A sizeable majority, 52 to 43 percent, oppose the planned $100 billion dollars in budget cuts House Republicans have proposed for this year that would reduce spending on education, student loans, energy and the environment. Also, by a two-to-one margin, voters disapprove of Republican positions that add to the deficit (such as the repeal of health care reform and making permanent tax cuts for the wealthy).
The Politics Ahead
After the Republicans landslide win in 2010, the country has quickly moved to a position of party parity in vote preference, image and identification. About equal numbers identify with the Democrats and Republicans; the two national and congressional parties are equally unpopular. In addition, President Obama’s standing is stronger since the election. His approval rating is up to 47 percent, but more important, strong disapproval has plummeted. This is a major change in mood and climate for the period ahead.
However, the president has further to go to have a clear lead and congressional Democrats have further to go if they are to rebuild their majorities. The Democratic majorities of 2006 and 2008 were produced by a new broad progressive base and by gains among key swing groups. To regain these majorities for 2012 Democrats will have to make significant additional gains with young voters and unmarried women. Democrats also need to do better with union households.
The difficulty that Democrats are having with white non-college and blue-collar voters is no doubt closely linked to the economy and the job climate. If Democrats are to reach these voters, they have to understand the scale of the problems people are facing and how hungry they are for Democrats to show how they are going to get the country back to growth and creating American jobs.
Economists agree that the unemployment rate will exceed 9 percent for the next several months and will most likely still exceed 8 percent during the 2012 election. There is no more important fact. In this survey, 17 percent report being unemployed in the past year; 41 percent when counting themselves or someone in their immediate family—one half of white non-college men.
President Obama and the Democratic Party have to start over in communicating their vision of the economy. The country embraces long-term plans for investment to create jobs and favors growth as the best route to deficit reduction, strongly favoring investment over austerity.