Who's upset over the economy? Everybody, everywhere
By JANE SASSEEN
Anger: It's the defining political emotion of this campaign season. It's boiling across the country, much of it directed at President Obama and the congressional Democrats over the way they have handled the economy. Not far behind is dissatisfaction.
The combination, detected in a new ABC News/Yahoo! News poll, spells trouble for Democrats three weeks out from the election. Angry people, analysts say, go out and vote. Dissatisfied people tend to stay home.
With the recovery stalling, unemployment stuck at 9.6 percent and the housing crisis entering a dangerous new phase as bungled paperwork and outright fraud force a halt to foreclosures across the country, there's plenty to get upset about.
The poll, a national, random-sample survey conducted by Langer Research Associates, shows just how deep the anger runs: A sky-high 25 percent of Americans say they are angry about the state of the economy — many more of them Republicans than Democrats, a key reason why the economy's woes appear to be playing to the GOP's favor.
Dissatisfaction, which thus far has grabbed few headlines, runs sharply through an even larger swath of the electorate, but it holds just as much peril for the Democrats struggling to hold onto control of Congress and many statewide offices. Fully another 60 percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the economy — and many of them are Democrats.
So just who is angry? And who is dissatisfied? And where are they?
The short answer: pretty much everyone and everywhere. The real story underlying this election may be how uniform and broadly felt the unhappiness is.
"The president can talk about the economy recovering, but no one believes him," says Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. While many analysts have compared this year with 1994, when an unhappy electorate sent many Democratic incumbents packing and handed control of the House to the GOP for the first time in 40 years, Sheinkopf points out the shift then was mostly fueled by "angry white men." This time, "it's angry everybody."
Lane McCammon, 54, a retired engineer now living in Stallings, N.C., undoubtedly speaks for many as he ticks off the reasons for his ire.
"Unemployment just kept going up and up and up. … The stimulus has been an absolute disaster. Cash for clunkers — people took the money and bought foreign-made cars," McCammon laughs in obvious disgust. "This has been a pathetic Congress. … They are spending money like drunken sailors." The difference being that sailors spend their own money.
"I'm very angry. My wife is angry. We're an angry household here," adds McCammon, who voted for McCain and thinks Obama doesn't have a chance of being re-elected in 2012.
It's often the case that political trends are felt more strongly in one region or demographic group than another. With anger coursing much more deeply through GOP veins than Democratic ones, for example, analyst Greg Valliere of the Potomac Research Group says he'd expect it to be "a bigger factor in Republican-leaning regions like the South."
This year, however, that isn't holding true.
From California's craggy coastline to the wide-open Plains states to the small towns that dot the South, a remarkably consistent 26 percent to 27 percent describe themselves as angry over the economy. While the anger meter drops slightly, to 20 percent, in the traditionally more moderate, Democratic leaning Northeast, the difference isn't statistically significant.
The story is much the same when other results from the ABC News/Yahoo! News poll are examined.
Break the country down by income, and in every category roughly a quarter of the respondents report they are angry: from the 24 percent of those getting by on less than $25,000 to the 26 percent of those pulling in more than $100,000.
Dissatisfaction is amazingly uniform across a range of paychecks, too. Some 58 percent of those making between $50,000 and $75,000 reported being dissatisfied with the economy — hardly different from the 61 percent and 60 percent dissatisfaction rates reported among the lowest and highest income levels, respectively.
Only when looking at age and race do some differences start to emerge. Some 35 percent of Americans aged 50-64 are angry, while those between 30 and 39 weigh in at 24 percent. Far fewer younger Americans — those aged 18 to 29 — are upset. Only 13 percent of them say they're angry.
What explains the difference? While many Americans middle-aged and up have lost jobs, seen the value of their homes collapse and their retirement savings eviscerated, younger adults, despite the drab job market and daunting levels of college debt, probably feel they have more time to wait out the downturn.
"Millennials have not lost as much in the downturn, so they have less to be angry about," says Michael Cornfield, an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Moreover, he adds, "They don't have as high expectations from government as boomers do."
Those numbers also reflect the appeal Obama still holds among the young, who voted for him by a two-to-one margin. The lack of anger suggests they haven't given up on him and his party yet, says Cornfield. But they are far from happy: Some 70 percent of voters 18 to 29 are dissatisfied with the economy. Similar dynamics hold for African-Americans, another of the president's core support groups. They, too, express dissatisfaction far more than anger: Only 18 percent of African-Americans say they are angry about the economy, while 29 percent of whites say they are.
That distinction — between anger and dissatisfaction — is critical, and it's one that holds big implications in the voting booth: Republicans and a large slice of independents tend to be angry, while Democrats lean more toward dissatisfaction.
Among registered voters, a sky-high 41 percent of Republicans describe themselves as angry about the economy, as do 30 percent of independents. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of Democrats say the same. A far higher proportion of them — 69 percent — describe themselves as dissatisfied.
One potential explanation: Republicans and independents are far less convinced that the recovery is under way. While 46 percent of registered Democrats say they think the economy has begun to recover, only 31 percent of independents agree. As for Republicans, just 24 percent think the recovery has started.
Partisan politics clearly plays a big role. "Members of the president's own party are more sympathetic to his policies and more understanding of his situation than are members of the opposition," says Frank Donatelli, former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee. Republicans, he adds, "are simply not predisposed to like anything this president proposes."
That wide gap is reflected in the views of Robert Wilk, a 64-year-old funeral director from Holly, Mich., and Tricia DeYoung, a 38-year-old Democrat who works as a trainer in a residential treatment facility in Pittsburgh, Pa.
"Oh, no, we're definitely not in recovery. … More people are out of work every month," says Wilk. He didn't vote for Obama in 2008, and won't be voting Democratic now. To him, it's clear where blame for the weak economy lies: "Businesses don't like uncertainty, and nobody knows what Obama is going to do."
Not so, says DeYoung, who argues much progress has been made, given how far down the economy had fallen. "We're slowly but surely starting to come out of the recession," she says. Her anger isn't directed at Obama and the Democrats, but "at the people who got us here," referring to the Bush administration.
Whatever the reasons, the difference matters, because anger is likely to do a far better job of pushing people to go out and vote than mere dissatisfaction. In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, for example, respondents who described themselves as angry were also more likely to say they were certain to vote.
"Everyone is unhappy today, but when you get the higher level of intensity, those people are more motivated to vote than those who are just dissatisfied," says Cornfield. Republican voters, along with an increasing number of independents, don't like what the government has done; they're eager to put a stop to policies they see as both intrusive and ineffective. Democrats, on the other hand, are unhappy with the pace of change but think the administration deserves more time to right the economy. "If you're a Democrat, you're in favor of waiting," he adds. "But waiting doesn't get you to the polls."
BACK TO EDITORIAL TABLE OF CONTENTS
BACK TO HOME PAGE