The Washington Post

Why it’s tough to talk about the economy

Dueling speeches Thursday from President Obama and Mitt Romney gave another clear take on the presidential campaign’s primary battlefield: framing the economic debate. They also highlighted the potentially treacherous course ahead.

The April NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll tested six main economic messages, revealing opportunities and risks for both Obama and Romney in how they talk about their broader agendas. (At the moment, neither scores well here.)

The top two trial statements in the chart below performed well across party lines, making them akin to uncontroversial “valence issues,” in poli-sci-speak. “Restoring the values of economic freedom” and another statement emphasizing free enterprise were the top picks of large numbers of Republicans, and won over narrower majorities of independents.

Getting “government out of the way” exposed the biggest rift between Republicans and Democrats, with independents somewhat closer to Democrats.

Most Democrats in the poll were supportive of a candidate emphasizing the problems of a growing wealth gap, but this was the one that performed the worst among Republicans. And while it may be fodder in Democratic circles, independents were close to Republicans on this issue.


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