The Washington Post

It’s not the economy, stupid

President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton along with Democratic presidential hopeful Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, acknowledge supporters during a symbolic passing of the torch ceremony, Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2000, in Monroe, Mich. "You know, Bill Clinton worked hard to get this economy right. And I'm pledging to you here today, I am not going to let the other side wreck it and take it away from us," the vice president told a cheering crowd of thousands in the courthouse square. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Political analysts, The Fix included, are still trying to figure out precisely what the 2014 election is about. That's because the American people don't seem to prioritize much of anything when it comes to their vote. Indeed, it's the election about everything and nothing at the same time.

But there is one clear trend, and that is, to tweak Bill Clinton adviser James Carville's words, "It's not the economy, stupid."

According to new data from Gallup, when asked about the country's most important problem, 71 percent of Americans name something that is not related to the economy. That's the first time that number has peaked above 70 percent since before the recession. And indeed, it's basically about where it was in advance of the two pre-recession midterm elections, in 2002 and 2006.

For much of the past five years, more than 70 percent of Americans cited something having to do with the economy. Today, just 38 percent do -- a steep drop from earlier this year.


What's most interesting is that, in 2002 and 2006, national security and foreign wars were of pressing importance -- which explained why the economy took a back seat. Today, apart from the border crisis, there isn't really an overarching theme that is eclipsing the economy. There are some headaches overseas, but those aren't really front-and-center for most Americans -- fewer than 20 percent of whom cite wars, defense or national security as their No. 1 issues.

Economic indicators have indeed started taking a turn for the better, but polls have shown only incremental progress when it comes to American's perceptions of the economy. In other words, it doesn't appear to be a feather in President Obama's cap just yet.

But perhaps this poll is a better measure of how much perceptions of the economy are actually improving. After all, if half the country really thought we were still in a recession -- as a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed -- a few more of them might prioritize the economy a little higher.

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



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Aaron Blake · August 14, 2014

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