Democrats need bigger economic message, pollster warns

When President Obama took office, Americans by a 2-to-1 margin said government should be doing more. Six years later, 54 percent said government was trying to do too much.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
The final George Washington University Battleground Poll of 2014 was released at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast by Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday in Washington, DC.

Americans remain strongly negative about the economy and about prospects for the next generation, according to a George Washington University Battleground Poll released Thursday.  

Some 77 percent of registered voters are either very worried or somewhat worried about current economic conditions, the poll found. In addition, 56 percent describe the economy as either “poor and staying the same” or “getting worse.”

Such negative views were devastating to Democrats in last month’s midterms, in which Republicans swept Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislative seats across the country. Democrats were also hurt by failing to articulate a “bold economic agenda for the country” – an element that’s essential to holding onto the White House in 2016, says Celinda Lake, Democratic pollster on the Battleground Poll.

“We must have a bigger economic message and a bigger economic frame,” Ms. Lake told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor. “Minimum wage, equal pay, paid sick days – all very popular proposals, but just not up to the robustness of the concern that people have about the economy.”

Predicting who will win the 2016 presidential race could end up being simple. “Tell me who’s ahead on the economy the day before the election, and I’ll tell you who’s going to be president,” Lake says.

Security and stability are also key political themes, with the rise of the Islamic State and Ebola.  

“You see women more worried about terrorism, and they’re going to be looking for a president who can reassure them on this security-stability dimension, that they think can be a strong hand and in charge, with a focus on the future,” Lake says.

“I think we have a very strong potential nominee who is very reassuring to women,” she adds, alluding to Hillary Rodham Clinton, not yet a candidate but heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination if she runs.

The Battleground Poll also analyzed how voters feel about the role of government today. When President Obama took office nearly six years ago, Americans by a 2-to-1 margin said government should be doing more. Six years later, in the exit polls for the Nov. 4 election, 54 percent said government was trying to do too much.

“It was a total reversal of what we had seen when Obama came into office,” said Ed Goeas, Republican pollster on the Battleground Poll, at the breakfast.

The 2008 Battleground Poll found that 52 percent of registered voters say the federal government should do more to solve problems, versus 43 percent, who said government is doing too much. And therein lies a message for the GOP, Mr. Goeas says.

“What I’m telling my Republican friends out there is that this is very similar to what we saw when [Ronald] Reagan got elected – that there was the argument of a leaner, more efficient, more effective [government],” he says.

“It is not, ‘Let’s go back to Obama’s approach to role of government,’ but it is very much a, ‘OK, we’re going to give Republicans a chance, we do recognize that they’re in control of some things, to come up with some solutions.’ ”

Goeas also spoke glowingly about both the forming field of Republican presidential candidates, as well as the crop of incoming Republican senators, some of whom he advised in their campaigns.

“We have coming into the Senate probably the strongest, best group of freshman senators I’ve ever seen,” Goeas said. “In state after state after state, we nominated the right person. We did not nominate any crazies.”

The more the country sees of these new Republican senators, “the more people like [Texas Sen.] Ted Cruz are going fade into the background.”

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