January 27, 2018

It’s (Not) the Economy, Stupid

More Americans in 2018 are expected to prioritize other policy issues over economic improvement, according to a new poll. Charlie Neibergall/AP

A new survey suggests a shrinking percentage of Americans consider strengthening the economy a top priority ahead of 2018 midterms.

By Andrew Soergel / 01.25.2018

With stock indexes regularly eclipsing all-time highs, gross domestic product growth revving up and unemployment sitting at its lowest level in 17 years, Americans appear to be feeling confident enough in the U.S. economy to begin viewing other policy areas as bigger priorities for lawmakers to tackle.

As the 2018 midterm elections loom, survey results published Thursday by the Pew Research Center show 71 percent of some 1,500 respondents consider strengthening the economy a top priority for President Donald Trump and Congress in 2018.

While that’s still a considerable share, the percentage of respondents who view boosting the economy as a top priority has fallen considerably in recent years. Four years ago, 80 percent of respondents considered economic improvement a major priority, making it the top policy issue of 2014. Four years before that, 83 percent of respondents said the same.

But the economy in the most recent poll slipped to third place in the eyes of the American voter, as terrorism and education claimed the top spots.

Pew Research (click image to enlarge)

“These shifts come as attitudes about the economy and jobs availability have become more positive,” a Pew report on the findings said. “For example, the share of Americans who say there are plenty of jobs available in their communities [according to another Pew poll] increased from 10 percent in 2010 to 50 percent last month.”

Indeed, consumer sentiment trackers in 2017 soared to their highest levels in years, as did metrics recording confidence among CEOs and business executives. Bolstering the good feelings have been a slew of mostly positive economic indicators, as job growth continued to plug along last year and U.S. GDP registered its best back-to-back quarters for expansion since 2014.

“The economy is striding along and has shrugged off political developments to this point,” Eric Winograd, a senior U.S. economist at AllianceBernstein, wrote in a research note Wednesday. “Our base-case forecast is for it to stay that way.”

The U.S. is now in its eighth year of economic recovery, and sentiment among Republicans in particular has been bolstered by the GOP’s recently finalized tax overhaul. Republican lawmakers are likely to heavily draw on recent GDP gains and the benefits of their tax package as they head into this year’s midterms.

Yet Pew’s report suggests they also may be wise to focus on other issues that have gained increasing prominence among the American public in recent years.

Pew Research (click image to enlarge)

“The share of Americans saying that protecting the environment should be a top policy priority has increased 18 percentage points since 2010 (from 44 percent to 62 percent), and seven points in the past year alone,” the report said. “Also in the past year, the shares saying that improving the nation’s transportation system and dealing with drug addiction should be top priorities have increased 13 points each (both from 36 percent to 49 percent).”

Unsurprisingly, however, some priorities varied widely by respondents’ political affiliation. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans or those who lean toward the GOP said strengthening the military should be a top priority, compared with just 30 percent of Democrats. Conversely, Democrats or those who politically lean that way were significantly more likely to place climate change (68 percent to Republicans’ 18 percent) and protecting the environment (81 percent compared with Republicans’ 18 percent) at the top of their to-do lists.

Pew Research (click image to enlarge)

“Democrats are about 20 points more likely than Republicans to rate dealing with the poor and needy, dealing with race relations and improving the education system as top priorities,” the report said. “And while 86 percent of Republicans say defending against terrorism should be a top goal, a smaller majority of Democrats (63 percent) say the same.”

Notably, although Democrats attacked Republicans’ new tax bill for adding to America’s long-term debt burden, a smaller share of those who lean left consider turning the deficit around to be a top priority this year. Just 41 percent of Democrats said as much, compared with 59 percent of Republicans.

Originally published by U.S. News & World Report with permission.