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Voters, Candidates Shifting Their Attention to Economic Issues
As situation in Iraq improves, Americans more concerned about economy
By Michelle Austein


December 21, 2007
Friday AM

Washington -- "It's the economy, stupid."

President Bill Clinton's staffers used this popular slogan in his 1992 campaign against George H. W. Bush to indicate that, with the country deep in a recession, the economy was at the top of voters' minds.

Today, there is growing indication that when Americans are asked about their top concern, again it's the economy, stupid.

Judging by opinions of the war in Iraq and the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections, many political experts expected foreign policy to be the dominant issue of the 2008 campaign. But this may not be the case.

"Foreign policy is not dominating the elections as much as some might have expected," said Peter Beinart, senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Beinart briefed journalists at the Foreign Press Center in Washington December 4.

"I think the reason is pretty simple," Beinart said. "Iraq is not as big an issue in American politics as it was a few months ago."

As the number of deaths in Iraq declines and the coverage of the issue in the news media decreases, polls indicate that Americans are as concerned or more concerned about economic issues. While polls show Americans still favor troop withdrawal from Iraq, more people now believe the situation in that country is improving.

Economic concerns commonly dictate voters' choices in American elections. "Most elections are pocketbook elections," NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said at the Foreign Press Center December 10, "unless the pocketbook's full or unless a war is going badly."

Recent polls indicate that many Americans do not view their pocketbooks as full. A majority feel the economy is going badly, and more than 70 percent believe it will get worse, according to a December 6-9 Gallup Poll. A large number feel the United States is -- or soon will be -- in a recession.

High gas and oil prices and a fall in real estate prices are spurring the concern. Among Americans' biggest economic worries is paying home mortgages. Over the past year, there has been a drastic increase in the number of people with adjustable interest-rate loans unable to make their payments.

Americans' interest in other domestic issues, such as health care, is driven by economic concerns. Since the majority of Americans receive their health insurance from their employers, "when they say they're worried about health care, it also means they're worried about losing their job," Todd said.

Immigration, a hot topic among Republicans, also is related to economics. When there is economic angst, some worry about illegal immigrants taking jobs. "If you look at the history of our country, whenever immigration has become an issue on the national stage, it's been during an economic downturn," Todd said.

The candidates on both sides are paying attention to Americans' concerns and adjusting their strategies to target "pocketbook voters." In speeches and press releases, candidates are spending more time touting their economic experience and goals. The most recent debates in Des Moines, Iowa, were dominated by questions on the economy.

For example, Republican candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney cites his work running the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics as evidence of his business management skills. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton made a stop on Wall Street to share her proposals for ending the mortgage crisis and lowering heating bills.

Campaigning on economic issues could be more challenging for Republicans for two reasons. First, history has shown that when the economy is bad, the president's party is more likely to lose. Additionally, while Republicans often are viewed as better at handling security issues, voters tend to think Democrats are better at tackling economic issues.


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