THE BLOG
02/06/2007 04:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Economic Anxiety and the Middle Class

Last week, the USA
Today
"Gallup Guru" blog of Gallup
editor in chief Frank Newport took up the issue of economic anxiety among the middle class. Newport argues that the "rising middle class economic angst" claimed by various Democratic leaders has little support in recent survey data. While Newport is certainly right that traditional measures of economic confidence have been
on the rise, he may miss the role that the Iraq war and energy prices have had
in creating anxiety about our economic future.

Newport's
central argument is that on most questions about the economy, Americans are now
more positive than they have been in six or more years:

Perhaps most telling is a long-term
question
that asks Americans if their personal financial situation is
better or worse than it was a year ago. Fifty percent say that they are better
off, 30% worse off and the rest say they are the same. These may not seem like
stunningly positive statistics, but this marks the most positive read on this
measure since 2000, at the tail end of the dot.com boom. In February of 2006,
for example, only 37% said they were better off. In April of 2003, the better
off number was 32%.

The regular Consumer Confidence measures reported by ABC
News and the Washington Post shows much the same
thing.

ConsumerConfidenceABCPost.png

Newport also points out that Iraq, not the
economy is the central concern of most Americans:

Only 17% of Americans in fact
mention any type of economic problem in response to the question: What is the most important
problem
facing the country today? Although that's partly the result of the
overwhelming dominance of Iraq
in people's minds, it simply doesn't suggest any great economic anxiety at the
moment.

Except that in an indirect way, Iraq does translate into economic
insecurity. At the post election conference sponsored by the Cook Political
Report that I attended back in December, James Carville asked pollsters present what role the economy
played in the 2006 election. All four
agreed that the economy was a factor, and that the traditional economic
measures were missing the particular flavor of discontent that worked to the
Democrats advantage.

Republican Neil Newhouse argued that the discontent was not
about jobs or the stock market, but rather about the costs of health care,
energy, housing (including mortgages) and unease over layoffs. More important,
perhaps, Newhouse argued that voters "linked Iraq" to their sense of economic
unease. They may tell pollsters that they are doing well now, but also worry
that the resources and attention directed at Iraq might lead to economic difficulties
down the road.

Democrats Stan Greenberg and Harrison Hickman both pointed
out that the economic pressures Newhouse discussed (gas prices and worries
about health care costs) were most dominant in rural areas and with non-college
educated voters. Greenberg discussed and tested some of these themes in this post
election survey
and report.
While I have not seen one survey
question that confirms the linkage from Iraq to the economy, economic
concerns anxiety was mentioned often as a reason to vote Democratic. Greenberg found
that 45% of Democratic voters (or those who considered voting Democratic) agreed
that "changing our economic policies so that middle class families can prosper
again" was "one of the top few reasons" for their vote. Three out of four (75%)
named that statement as at least "near the top" of their concerns.

Update (2/9): Frank Newport responds here, more thoughts from me here.