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More than anything else, conservative voters regard deficit spending in Washington as the main source of America’s economic woes, according to our latest poll. Voters are also concerned about the quality of jobs in America and the role family breakdown is playing as an economic issue. There are lessons in the poll for 2012 candidates and members of Congress.
As a whole, Americans’ confidence in the economy is considerably lower than it was last year, according to Gallup. In fact, economic confidence is down to early 2009 levels, back when we were wrangling with the effects of the 2008 meltdown.
But which economic issues specifically do voters worry about?
In our latest poll of grassroots conservatives, we asked:
When you look at the economy, what are the biggest challenges facing American families and workers?
Respondents were asked to choose three challenges from a list. Here are the results:
- 62% - The federal deficit is slowing economic growth
- 45% - Taxes are too high
- 36% - There aren’t enough good jobs
- 29% - Small businesses are having a hard time
- 28% - Politicians can’t keep promises
- 25% - Family breakdown is on the rise
- 24% - The best jobs are going overseas
- 22% - Health care costs are too high
- 19% - Spending on Medicare and Social Security is hurting the economy
- 15% - Home values have plummeted
- 13% - Families have too much personal debt
- 8% - College costs are too high
Despite voters’ dissatisfaction with Republicans’ jobs agenda, candidates still benefit by focusing on the deficit. Grassroots conservatives have consistently said they think Republicans in Washington are not doing enough on jobs. And yet voters overwhelmingly see the deficit as the biggest threat to the economy. This issue undoubtedly grew more pronounced during the debt ceiling debates, but it’s likely to be an enduring theme in voters’ minds up through next year’s election.
Tax reform will remain a winning issue. Voters see taxes as too high, period. Bringing rates down significantly, as the GOP budget and the deficit commission have suggested, will appeal to voters, even with lots of loophole closing.
Jobs and small business still remain vital issues. Even though voters are more concerned about the deficit these days, they are also clearly worried that the quality of jobs and the conditions for small businesses are bad.
Don’t forget to talk about families. Note that more respondents listed family breakdown than health care costs. For some time, social scientists have drawn a clear connection between family breakdown (divorce, out-of-wedlock childbearing, absent fathers) and dim economic prospects for those in broken homes, but mainstream voters also seem to be making the same connection.
Voters still separate entitlements from the larger deficit issue. The “deficit” as a general issue has people worried, but the role of Social Security and Medicare as drivers of the deficit is less than it should be. So long as this is the case, candidates and elected leaders in Washington will be tempted to avoid talking about them. However, we’ll never get ahead of our need to reform entitlements if candidates don’t have the courage to talk about them and help bring voters along.
These are the views of middle class conservative voters. We asked respondents whether they consider themselves middle class. More than 87% responded affirmatively. Only 9% said no. Regardless of whether respondents technically fall within income ranges generally accepted as middle class, the fact that they so strongly self-identify as such is a message to candidates that upward mobility and growing a strong middle class will resonate.
Oh, and all of you in Washington: Voters still don't like you. In other polls Members of Congress consistently have the lowest approval ratings in the nation. Our poll is no different. Note that nearly as many respondents think politicians' breaking promises is as big a problem for the economy as the poor conditions for small businesses.
The poll was conducted August 18-21, 2011 among 734 members of the Republican Panel, a survey of active conservative Republican voters, assembled for ConservativeHome by YouGov.