Gallup's Frank Newport responded yesterday to my comments on his original "Gallup Guru" post on whether "middle class angst" on the economy might present an opening for Democrats in 2008. Newport originally argued Gallup data paints a picture of "rising economic positivity," and found little evidence that economic worries would translate into a major issue for Democrats. I suggested that concerns about Iraq might translate into economic worries, quoting several campaign pollsters who related voter worries that resources and attention directed at Iraq might lead to economic difficulties down the road.
The big shortcoming of my argument, admittedly, is that it was based mostly on the testimony of the campaign consultant pollsters rather than on survey data. I looked, briefly, but found nothing supportive in the public domain. Newport made this point in a gentlemanly way:
[I]t isn't clear to me why - if the "Iraq leads to economic worries" scenario is true - our ongoing economic measures have not reflected it. Whatever the cause, it would seem that if Americans are truly worried about economic issues, they would express that worry in both closed-ended and open-ended questions in our surveys. (If these concerns do begin to show up in the future in our data, then we'll deal with them then. We just don't see it at this point).**
That's a fair point. However, I submit this result from the 2006 national exit poll: More voters told exit pollsters they considered the economy "extremely" or "very important to their vote (82%) than said the same about the Iraq war (67%). The economy also beat Iraq (39% to 35%) as an "extremely" important issue, and voters who expressed extreme concerns about either concern voted for Democratic congressional candidates by wide margins.
It may also help to consider the campaign themes of some of the Democratic candidates that helped win control of the Senate, such as the signature ad by Ohio's Sherrod Brown, or the closing arguments of Claire McCaskill and Jim Webb. The Brown campaign emphasized trade policy, of course, but all three feature the common theme broader than the Iraq war: "Those in power" are not "on our side." They have misplaced priorities that "failed to protect working people."
I still agree with Newport that the Iraq war remains the "driving issue" of our politics, and that falling gas prices have helped economic confidence rebound slightly since the summer. We disagree, but only mildly, on whether classic economic confidence measures may be missing the potential for an "economic angst" argument.
**Update: Newport added a footnote this afternoon:
An update on the on-going discussion on economic angst. Gallup's February read on economic conditions in the country have retreated some from their January high points. (Full analysis to be posted at galluppoll.com on Monday). Americans' rating of current economic conditions, although still higher than the 2006 average, are down from January.
Follow Mark Blumenthal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MysteryPollster