WSJ: It's the Economy Stupid?

Thursday, May 06, 2004 | 06:24 AM


Surprising polling data from the WSJ: While its no surprise that Iraq polls negatively for the President -- 60% of respondents say events have "slipped out of U.S. control" -- it is the economic sentiment that may be perplexing to some:

"President Bush, already grappling with growing doubts about his Iraq policy, is facing a more surprising obstacle to re-election: voters' persistent worries about the economy.

Despite months of strong growth and recent good news on payroll jobs, six in 10 American voters say the economy is heading for trouble rather than prosperity, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Moreover, the proportion of Americans who say the economy has improved in the past year has declined significantly since January, as has the proportion who believe it will improve in the next year.

With six in 10 voters also concluding that events in Iraq have slipped out of U.S. control, Mr. Bush's slim national lead in the presidential campaign depends, for now, largely on doubts about Democratic challenger John Kerry that the president is stoking in stump attacks and a barrage of negative television ads."

I certainly expected Iraq to be a huge negative for the incumbent. With the latest torture allegations, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

But its the economic data which is so intriguing. How gamed are the official releases coming from BLS? Between hedonic factors and seasonal adjustments, are official Washington numbers painting an artificially rosy picture? If so, they are not having the intended effects on the populace. Indeed, with mortgage delinquencies and credit card defaults at record heights, perhaps the consumer is less well off then many believe. If one is buried in Debt, their perspectives are perhaps less optimistic than incumbents like.

"Indeed, poll results reflect a mood closer to the unsuccessful 1992 re-election campaign of the current president's father than to prevailing sentiment during Bill Clinton's successful bid for a second term in 1996. Only 42% say they are better off than four years ago, compared with 33% who say they are worse off and 23% reporting "about the same." Pluralities of political independents, swing voters and senior citizens say they have become worse off under Mr. Bush.

"Voters see neither peace nor prosperity on the horizon," say Messrs. Hart and Teeter in a memo summarizing the results."

Fascinating stuff from the always thought provoking John Harwood.


Despite Recovery, Bush Is Facing Doubts on Economy, Poll Finds
John Harwood
Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2004; Page A1,,SB108380597660303603,00.html

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Surprising polling data from the WSJ: While its no surprise that Iraq polls negatively for the President -- 60% of respondents say events have "slipped out of U.S. control" -- it is the economic sentiment that may be perplexing to... [Read More]

Tracked on May 6, 2004 2:11:07 PM


I doubt the BLS games its numbers. What's more likely to me is that folks don't vote the headline unemployment rate.

Compare the broadest alternate rate versus the headline rate:
U-6 headline
Mar99 7.6 4.2
Mar00 7.1 4.0
Mar01 7.3 4.3
Mar02 9.4 5.7
Mar03 10.0 5.8
Mar04 9.9 5.7

The headline number tacked on barely 1.5%, while the broad measure added an entire percentage point more, and is even worse now than during the initial downswing a couple years back. That's one number that needs to improve between earlier this year and, say, September for GWB to gain traction among voters on the economy. Another might be an income measure that isn't simply averaged across all earners.

That broad rate, fwiw, is the BLS's measure of, "[t]otal unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers."

Posted by: wcw | May 6, 2004 12:36:23 PM

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