Jewish World Review May 9, 2003 / 7 Iyar, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Dems overplay the economy card | Have you heard the news? More jobs have been lost during the first two years of President Bush's administration than under any President since Herbert Hoover. Haven't heard it? You will. It's one of the Democratic Party's new talking points.

There's an esoteric, History Channel quality to the Bush-Hoover comparison. Hoover left the White House 70 years ago. His name evokes little emotion, or even recognition, among voters under 80. Average Americans, if they've heard of Hoover at all, probably think he invented the vacuum cleaner.

In fact, Hoover was the unlucky and inept fellow who presided over the first years of the Great Depression. Today's Democrats are trying hard to convince the public that an analogous economic crisis is upon us. So far, it's not working.

This week, the Gallup Organization published the results of an economic public opinion poll it conducted in late April. The survey's main finding is that Americans aren't forming bread lines quite yet.

Gallup did find that 56% of the public thinks the economy is in recession - high, but hardly Hooverian. More to the point, it is far better than Bush's father fared on the same question after the first Gulf War. Then, 88% of Americans told Gallup they thought the nation was in a recession.

That disparity is crucial. Today's Democrats are inspired by the fact that Bush I lost his wartime popularity - and the 1992 election - because voters blamed him for hard economic times.

In 1991, not only did almost nine in 10 Americans say there was a recession, but almost 60% called it "serious" or "moderate" (as opposed to "mild," "no recession" or "no opinion"). Today, only 35% regard the country as in a serious or moderately serious recession.

Even more striking, 57% of Americans, asked about the business conditions in their communities, called them "good" or "very good." Obviously, many people who say there's a recession aren't experiencing it personally. Contrast this with 1991, when only 44% of Americans described the economic conditions in their communities in positive terms. This disparity is crucial, because people who pick candidates for financial reasons tend to vote their own pocketbooks, not those of their neighbors.

In 1991, with his overall job approval at 88%, President George Bush got favorable ratings for economic stewardship from just 37%. This Bush has a far lower (if still very high) overall rating of 70%. But 49% of the public approves of his economic job performance.

In Saturday's Democratic debate, Sen. John Edwards asked the Ronald Reagan question: Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Perhaps not, but the answer is not quite the rhetorical slam dunk the North Carolina senator and his fellow Democrats imagine. Sixty percent of the public told Gallup that they are as well off, or better off, than they were a year ago. Even more telling, almost two-thirds expect to be better off financially a year from now than they are today. Everyone knows that polls are a snapshot. Eighteen months before the next election, surveys reliably predict nothing. On the other hand, the precedent of 1992, on which the Democrats are basing so much hope, was also a snapshot - and, like the employment figures of the Hoover administration, it is yellowing into irrelevance.

If the Democrats want to exploit what they see as Bush's economic vulnerabilities, they will have to bring their talking points into the 21st century.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

05/05/03: Truth or Consequences: To win Arab liberals' trust, Bush needs to find Iraq's WMDs
05/01/03: U.S. security, not economy, is key for prez
04/28/03: Real artists, not airheads
04/22/03: Sealed With a Kiss
04/14/03: Don't believe the cheers
04/03/03: Iraq's only the start --- Syria & Iran are next
04/01/03: War's happy troubadours
03/27/03: What's not going on is the key in this war
03/20/03: The big question: Can Arabs handle liberty?
03/17/03: In war, like in baseball, the idea is to make the other guy cry --- now, let's go get 'em!
03/13/03: Jewish plot? This pol has gone punchy
03/11/03: Prez is ready to finish off the Security Council, too
03/04/03: Those human shields need some star power
02/28/03: How prez could further racial pluralism but end affirnative action
02/24/03: Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty
02/11/03: Rhyme, but no reason
02/04/03: McGovern's children
01/23/03: A peace movement that's going nowhere
01/13/03: No time for experts
01/07/03: Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez
12/31/02: Dem Dummies
12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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