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Friday, March 07, 2008

Paul Krugman: The Anxiety Election

What do voters care about?:

The Anxiety Election, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Democrats won the 2006 election largely thanks to public disgust with the Iraq war. But polls — and Hillary Clinton’s big victory in Ohio — suggest that if the Democrats want to win this year, they have to focus on economic anxiety.

Some people reject that idea. They believe that this election should be another referendum on the war... That belief is one reason many progressives fervently support Barack Obama, an early war opponent, even though his domestic platform is somewhat to the right of Mrs. Clinton’s.

As an early war opponent myself, I understand their feelings. But should and ought don’t win elections. And polls show that the economy has overtaken Iraq as the public’s biggest concern.

True, the news from Iraq will probably turn worse again. Meanwhile, a hefty majority of voters continue to say that the war was a mistake, and people are as angry as ever about the $10 billion a month wasted on the neocons’ folly.

Yet for the time being, public optimism about Iraq is rising: 53 percent of the public believes that the United States will definitely or probably succeed in achieving its goals. So anger about the war isn’t likely to be decisive in the election.

The state of the economy, on the other hand, could well give Democrats a huge advantage — especially, to be blunt about it, with white working-class voters who supported President Bush in 2004. ...

But first, of course, the Democrats have to settle on a nominee. And the shift in electoral focus from Iraq to economic anxiety clearly plays to Mrs. Clinton’s strengths.

According to exit polls, Mr. Obama narrowly edged out Mrs. Clinton among Ohio voters who consider Iraq the most important issue — but these voters cast only 19 percent of the ballots... Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton led by 12 points among the much larger group of voters citing the economy as the most important issue — and by 16 points among those who cited health care. Mrs. Clinton’s winning margin was twice as large among those who were worried about their own financial situation as among those who weren’t.

Why has Mr. Obama stumbled when it comes to economic issues? Well, on health care — which is closely tied to overall concerns about financial security — there is a clear, substantive difference between the candidates, with the Clinton plan being significantly stronger.

More broadly, I suspect that the Obama mystique — his carefully created image as a transformational, even transcendent figure — has created a backlash among those unconvinced that he’s interested in the nuts-and-bolts work of fixing things. Ohio voters were more likely to say that Mr. Obama inspires them — but more likely to say that Mrs. Clinton has a clear plan for the country’s problems.

And Mr. Obama’s attempt to win over workers by portraying himself as a fierce critic of Nafta looked, and was, deeply insincere — an appearance particularly costly for a candidate who tries to seem above politics as usual.

Thanks to Tuesday’s results, the nomination fight will go on to Pennsylvania in April, and probably beyond — and rightly so. It’s now clear that Mrs. Clinton, like Mr. Obama, has strong grass-roots support that cannot be simply brushed aside without alienating voters that the party will badly need in November. So the Democratic National Committee had better get moving on plans to do Michigan and Florida over, to give the eventual nominee the legitimacy he or she needs.

And, as the Democrats ponder their choices, they might want to consider which candidate can most convincingly ask: “Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?”

    Posted by on Friday, March 7, 2008 at 12:35 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (108)


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