"It's the economy, stupid." Remember that mantra from the Clinton campaign two years ago?
Voters who were angry in 1992 at a lingering recession sent President Bush home. Now that the recession has ended, the unemployment rate is dropping, inflation remains in check and the economy actually is growing again, are those voters applauding President Clinton?
Not a lot of them. A recession surely will hurt a president unlucky enough to be in office when one hits. However, the officeholder presiding over a recovery doesn't automatically get credit.
So perhaps the dictum should be, "It's the electorate, stupid." The issues are what voters perceive them to be. Kudos go where the voters decide. And right now, it is not for economic recovery.
The New York Times found this sentiment when it analyzed the prospects for the November election in Tennessee where the economy is thriving but Democrats worry they are not. Clinton and Vice President Gore, a Tennessean, carried the state in 1992, but nearly two-thirds of voters in a recent poll said they were not happy with the president's performance in office.
Florida voters probably are in about the same frame of mind with the president and members of his party, according to Susan MacManus, professor of political science at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She and others cite several reasons for this. Issues like crime and welfare have pushed to the forefront. A poll of 1,000 state voters done in September showed only 7 percent of the respondents rated the economy as the most important issue for the governor of Florida to focus on in the next year. The issue rated the highest was crime/drugs/gangs.
"Once something very important to people is taken care of, it is no longer an important issue at all," said Don Bellante, a professor of economics at USF.
Florida's economy is doing well, and consumer confidence is higher than during the presidential election two years ago. Jobs and personal income are up. But some voters out there may not be convinced of that improvement because they keep hearing about layoffs at mainline companies everybody thought were safe. And then there are those voters preoccupied with different aspects of the economy than what the politicians are campaigning on. Those just barely getting by might be wondering why those at the top have so much.
Clinton and the Democrats may not be getting credit for improvement in the economy because some voters don't think they deserve it. The recovery started before Bush was defeated, Bellante said. Clinton's emergency jobs program crashed in Congress, and Bellante acknowledges the long-term benefit of Clinton's deficit-reduction program but said it probably slowed the recovery in the short term.
Depression over prospects for the future has put voters in a sour mood for the present. They've been telling MacManus, "I'm just waiting for the shoe to hit me in the back of the neck."