President Obama’s goal at last Friday’s press conference, according to those who know him best, was simple: Explain to a confused American public why the struggles in Europe are having ripple effects across the global economy — up to and including the United States.
“One concern is Europe, which faces a threat of renewed recession as countries deal with a financial crisis,” said Obama at the start of his prepared remarks. “Obviously this matters to us because Europe is our largest economic trading partner. If there’s less demand for our products in places like Paris or Madrid it could mean less businesses — or less business for manufacturers in places like Pittsburgh or Milwaukee.”
In a Pew Research Center poll released this morning just 18 percent of people said they were following news about the European economies “very closely” while 35 percent said they were keeping very close track of news on the U.S. economy and 30 percent said they were following talk of the 2012 election very closely.
(Worth noting: Just 21 percent said they followed news of the Wisconsin recall election “very closely”, a finding that may put a bit of a damper on GOP talk of how what happened last week in the Badger State was a game-changing moment in the 2012 election.)
Look back across Pew polling for the last six months and it’s clear that the struggles of Europe, which have dominated the national news during that time, simply doesn’t move the needle in this country.
Since early November 2011, Pew has conducted 10 national polls that have asked some variant on the question of how closely people are following the economic news out of Europe. Never has that number been higher than 18 percent and it has regularly dipped into the low teens; in mid February just 11 percent of respondents said they were following news on the “efforts to deal with the debt crisis in Greece and Italy” very closely, for example.
What that lack of interest in what is arguably the biggest economic story in the world over the past six months tells you is that simply explaining why Europe matters to us won’t solve President Obama’s messaging issues on the economy.
People want things to get better here — and now. Europe is a far away place whose problems don’t seem relevant to their ability to buy gas for their car, put food on the table or pay for their kid to go to college.
Unless the trend line of Americans’ interest in consuming news about Europe changes — and there is no reason to think it will — President Obama’s job to sell economic progress starts (and ends) at the borders of the United States.