Barone: Why Voters Think the Economy Is in Trouble

     While the media have been talking down the economy for the past four years on gas prices, recession, housing and more, there may be another reason so many voters perceive the economy to be in poor shape.


     According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, voters think the economy is a more important issue than the Iraq war now. The poll also revealed 57 percent of voters think the United States is in an economic recession and 26 percent think one is likely in the next year. Why so gloomy? According to one author, it may be a matter of age.


     “The median age voter in this election will have been born about 1966. “They never waited behind a steering wheel in a half-hour gas line,” explained Michael Barone, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and the principal co-author of “The Almanac of American Politics.” Barone’s comments came while he was promoting his new book in Alexandria, Va. on December 12.


     Barone continued, “They never tried to pay weekly bills with getting more deducted from their paycheck by bracket [creep] and seeing their bills climb upward because of inflation. They weren’t paying weekly bills until the 1980s. And, they’ve experienced this low inflation, economic growth 95 percent of the time in their adult lives.” (Click here for audio.)


     “[T]his is a new electorate,” Barone said. “The median voter in 2006 will have been born on or about the year 1966. They don’t remember the 70s and I think that’s important on economic issues.”


     In the 70s, Barone explained, many “government solutions” and “regulations” about the economy were discredited by the gas lines, stagflation and low economic growth.


     As history points out, those liberal economic policies failed according to Barone.


     “Going into the 1980 election, liberal economists, who in the mid-1960s when I took ‘Ec I’ at Harvard said, ‘Hey we got the answer – we can give you low inflation, economic growth forever – just a couple of public policy levers, we know how to do it,’” Barone said. “By the late-1970s, they’re saying, ‘you people are childish for wanting low inflation, economic growth. Again, just keeping things humming along with high inflation and no growth is about the best you can expect, so become adult and think about it and so forth.”


     Voters who are too young to remember the 70s have only seen how great the economy can be, so they are more likely to think the economy is struggling now.


     “Starting in 1983, 25 years ago next month, we’ve had 25 years where we’ve had low inflation, economic growth 95 percent of the time,” Barone said. “The stuff those economists said could no longer happen has happened almost all the time and I think that has effected our political environment for a long time.”


     On December 12, CNN’s Ali Velshi told “American Morning” viewers he is not trying to “start a recession or stop one,” but “to tell you what you guys are thinking about a recession [referring to the CNN poll results] and see where it goes.” But according to Barone, the “you guys” he is referring to have no idea what a troubled economy looks like.


     How the public “feels” about the economy and how politicians tell them the economy is, isn’t necessarily a true gauge of the economy.


     “Voters’ view of the economy today, as I pointed out in the introduction, is not really a view of the economy,” Barone added.

     “Democrats now are talking quite differently,” Barone said. “They’re basically calling for allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, which is in effect a tax increase. They’re calling for in varying amounts and in different ways government-directed health care proposals. And they’re talking to an electorate which I think is conceivably more – could be more attracted to these things than the electorate in 1992.”