While sometimes it is difficult to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything, the economic concerns facing the nation are at the forefront of the minds of the electorate for both major political parties in the Upper Midwest and across the country. In fact, public opinion has not been so unified in the past decade on the top problem facing this nation, other than the months following the terrorist attacks in September 2001.
However, while Barack Obama may be enjoying a bump in the polls partially as a result of the newfound focus on the economy, this does not guarantee him a victory in November.
In Iowa, for example, several polls conducted of the eve of the 2004 election found economic concerns to be the top issue for Iowans in their vote choice. A CNN / USA Today / Gallup Poll ending the week before the election found the economy to be the most important issue (32 percent), followed by Iraq (27 percent) and the war on terrorism (22 percent). A Fox News survey of Iowans ending Oct. 31 had similar findings: The economy led the way at 21 percent, followed by terrorism and the war in Iraq at 19 percent each. Despite these economic concerns, President George W. Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry in the Hawkeye State.
A long-time concern
In fact, economic concerns are not new to the Upper Midwest — they have been on the minds of voters in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for several years.
• In August 2003, a KCCI-TV / Research 2000 poll found the economy to be the top national problem among Iowans by nearly a 2:1 margin over taxes and homeland security.
• The economy was listed as the top issue among Minnesotans in their vote choice for national office in all three Pioneer Press / MPR surveys conducted in May, July, and September 2004.
• A late October 2004 poll by Wisconsin Public Radio / St. Norbert College found the economy to be the top concern among Wisconsinites as well, edging the war in Iraq by a 23 to 21 percent margin. A pair of Humphrey Institute surveys of the Badger State conducted in July and October 2004 confirmed these findings, with the economy leading the pace as the top national concern in Wisconsin.
Despite these pressing economic issues facing voters back in 2004, John Kerry lost Iowa and was only able to eke out narrow wins in the Badger State (0.4 points) and Gopher State (3.5 points).
Of course, the advantage for Obama in 2008, presuming he presents himself well on economic issues between now and the election, is a question of scale: The number of Upper Midwesterners citing economic concerns is about double that from Election 2004. In Iowa, 60 percent of likely voters say the economy is the most important issue facing the next president, compared with 55 percent in Minnesota (SurveyUSA, September 2008). Quinnipiac’s latest survey finds 55 percent of Minnesotans and 51 percent of Wisconsinites stating the economy will be the single most important issue in their vote choice in the November election.
Eric J. Ostermeier is a post doctorate at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, the University of Minnesota. This article originally appeared as a post on the Smart Politics blog, which he oversees.
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