2014: The election about nothing?


(Columbia TriStar Television Photo via Reuters)

Earlier this week, the great Dan Balz wrote about how 2014 election was shaping up to be a mishmash of issues -- with one crisis after another shifting Americans' focus from Obamacare to foreign policy to immigration. The headline: "What is the 2014 midterm election all about? You decide."

We would take that a step further. Not only is the election about whatever a particular American thinks is important; it's also kind of -- and apologies to Seinfeld here -- an election about nothing.

Amid the jumble of timely issues, a funny thing actually happened: Almost all of them became less important to Americans.

A new poll from CNN/Opinion Research, in fact, shows not one issue is seen as "extremely important" by a majority of Americans -- the first time that's happened since before the recession. Just three years ago, three different issues were seen as extremely important by a majority of Americans: the economy, the deficit and health care.

And almost every major issue -- the three issues above, as well as guns, education, foreign affairs and taxes -- are seen as less important today than they have in recent years.

The only thing on the upswing is illegal immigration. And even that is "extremely important" to fewer than 40 percent of Americans.

The most striking shift is on the economy, which has understandably been Americans' top priority for years. But as signs continue to improve for the recovery, polls are starting to show the economy isn't the dominant issue it previously was.

CNN's poll shows the percentage of Americans who see the economy as being of paramount importance dropping by 10 points since April 2013, to 49 percent today. At it's peak, 70 percent of Americans said it was of the utmost importance.

And Gallup has shown a similar trend:

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Worries about the economy are now at pre-recession levels, which means this probably isn't an it's-the-economy-stupid kind of election. At one point, we would have said the race is all about Obamacare, too. And then it was about foreign policy and now immigration.

In reality, it's hard to name one issue that has the staying power to be the dominant issue -- or even a dominant one -- in the 2014 election. None of these issues are overwhelmingly important to Americans in their own right. It's just been one issue emerging over a whole bunch of other not-so-important issues, and often for a brief period of time.

And that makes messaging in the 2014 election -- as well as predicting what happens -- particularly difficult.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · July 24