A recent ARG national survey (5/17-20, N=1,100 adults) found that the perception of America’s economy has weakened since April.  Only 31% say the economy is getting better (down from 39% in April), while 40% say it is getting worse (the third month in a row that “worse” was at 40-41%).

Plus, the President’s own approval rating on his handling of the economy remains weak — only 44% approve while 53% disapprove.    This represents little change since March or April.

This is not the economic message arc that the Democrats believed they would have at this point.  Between last year’s improved stock market, and this year’s improving GDP, the Democrats thought that the American people would be throwing parades of gratitude.   However, the unemployment rate refuses to budge, the deficit worsens, and the stock market  has plunged back below 10,000. 

The biggest challenge  facing the Democrats is clearly the unemployment rate.  As Charlie Cook noted in his column today:

…You have to throw in the impact of high unemployment. In the 736 months the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gathered this data, there have only been 13 months that have been at the current 9.9 percent mark. There also has never been an entire election year of 9 percent or higher unemployment, as this year is almost certain to have, since the Great Depression.

(I’m presuming Charlie meant to say “at OR ABOVE” the current 9.9 percent mark.)

Dems face a challenge on the economy — they promised unemployment no higher than 8.0% if the stimulus package were passed.  At some point, the unemployment rate will come down. . .but Republicans can not allow the Dems to give the stimulus package credit for it.  It’s been more than one year since it passed, and it hasn’t really provided any kind of stimulus or job creation.   If we were going to put our nation and our children this much further into debt, the stimulus should have actually stimulated something within a speedy amount of time, not act as a slow-release medicine that takes years to work.

Another message opportunity for Republicans regarding the economy comes on the lack of focus of the Democrats on jobs and the economy.  Rather than focusing on creating jobs (outside of growing government), President Obama and the Dems are too busy dealing with other issues, such as DADT or cap and trade. 

In 1992, exasperated Republicans pointed to GDP and other economic indicators to argue that the economy was getting better, but the public wasn’t buying it.  Democrats will attempt to cherry-pick economic data — but the unemployment rate, the rising deficit, and other factors provide Republicans with a strong pushback.  The Administration simply isn’t dealing with the biggest challenge facing the country, and the American people know that.

Public Opinion Strategies