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The Economy: What Are We Talking About Here?

1:15 PM, May 21, 2012 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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In the overall national poll, Obama was favored over Romney by double-digits on three fronts: handling living standards for the poor, the concentration of wealth and the cost of a college education. Romney was favored over Obama by double-digits on three fronts: dealing with the deficit and debt, the financial performance of savings and retirement investments, and economic growth.Susan Page, USA Today

Hardly anyone would dispute the assertion that the issue driving the elections this year will be “the economy.” But what, exactly, do voters mean when they talk about “the economy.” The answer, in ordinary times, would be fairly straightforward. To know how they feel about the economy, most voters ask themselves a simple question: “How am I doing?”

If the answer lies anywhere between “pretty good” and “great,” then the incumbent can take the afternoon off. “Poor” to “awful,” means he and his team of spinners need to work on changing the subject.

“Did you know my challenger once went honky tonking in Memphis with a woman who was not his wife?  It’s true he wasn’t married at the time. He was just a college kid, in fact. But he did use a phony ID to buy beer. And 40 years only seems like a long time ago.”

The president and his team, along with various units of the mainstream media, are doing their best on this front. But it is hard to imagine them breaking through the widespread perception that the economy is in serious, if not terminal, trouble.

Among the interesting finding of the USA Today/Gallup poll cited by Ms. Page is something she virtually throws away by enclosing it in parentheses:

(Romney does have an advantage on somewhat higher-ranking concerns than Obama does, including the No. 1 deficit issue.)

Now that causes one to pause and think. Wasn’t the deficit supposed to be an issue voters didn’t trouble themselves about. If it didn’t matter to Dick Cheney or Paul Krugman, why should it matter to them? Jobs, growth, income, taxes, interest rates … those were things the voter could get his mind wrapped around and then take his conclusions into the voting booth with him.

But deficits? No so much.

Now, however, voters rank it #1. And far above … oh, income inequality. The Buffett rule, it seems, does not rule.

Why this concern over deficits?  Perhaps the news from Europe has something to do with it. The Greeks and Spaniards overspent and now their unemployment situations would make 8 percent out of work seem an occasion to break into a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Voters know that things cannot go on like this and that, therefore, they won’t. 

The election will likely come down to these questions:

  • Which side owns “this?”
  • Which side is more likely to fix “this?”

The stuff about dogs, churches, and spouses is just so much lagniappe.

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