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WH Hails Economic Gains But Poll Finds Few Concur

WH Hails Economic Gains But Poll Finds Few Concur

By Alexis Simendinger - December 19, 2014

President Obama and his White House team wrapped a bow around 2014 on Thursday, celebrating what they called a “milestone year” of economic revival in which more than 2 million jobs were added as manufacturing surged.

Simultaneously, a bipartisan duo of public opinion experts unveiled a new poll that underscored how few Americans are experiencing that renewal, or trust that recovery is here to stay, especially if they identify with the middle class.

“We must have a bigger economic message and a bigger economic frame,” warned Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who with Republican pollster Ed Goeas conducted a national survey a month after the November elections.

“It’s not just the economy right now -- which people think is not in good shape,” Lake added during a roundtable Thursday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “People are extremely concerned about the next generation, and it unites America, including college-educated people.”

Democratic candidates, including congressional leaders, walked away from the dismal November results wringing their hands that they’d bungled their economic arguments to voters, persuading too-few Americans to place their trust in the party that holds the White House.

“We should be talking every day about the economy and jobs, and I don’t think either party is delivering a strong enough message in that regard,” said Lake, president of Lake Research Partners. “The middle-class are even more pessimistic than the upper- or lower-class. … Whoever wins the presidency [in 2016] is going to have to convince people that they’re going to get the economy back on track.”

The Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters, sponsored by The George Washington University, found that 56 percent believe economic conditions are getting worse or are poor and staying the same. Asked how anxious they are about current economic conditions, 77 percent of likely voters said they’re very or somewhat worried about the economic climate.

At the White House, some of Obama’s top advisers described conditions as decidedly less bleak, expressing optimism about economic progress during the president’s final two years in office, whether a Republican-led Congress collaborates with him or not.

“There’s more that we can do and we’re going to be very focused after the new year to grow manufacturing, exports, the economy overall and create good middle-class jobs,” Jeff Zients, director of the White House National Economic Council, said during an end-of-year conference call.

“I think it’s important that we focus on how strong the economic growth has been this year, and the fact that businesses have added 10.9 million jobs over 57 straight months, which is the longest streak on record,” he said.

Obama next year will continue to talk about wage stagnation and government policies that could boost productivity, training for job openings and higher wages, and trade. The president often points to “good paying” jobs in manufacturing, a sector that has produced 764,000 jobs since 2010 and is expanding at a faster rate than the overall economy, the White House says.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez (pictured), also on the call with reporters, emphasized his department’s enthusiasm for job training and apprenticeships that lead to what he called “a meaningful pathway to the middle class.”

That message -- attention to lower-income workers and those with less education and training -- is in the Democratic Party’s DNA, but it is not reassuring to the majority of Americans who thought they were well along a middle-class pathway but got thrown into a ditch, the poll results suggest.

“Republicans have been winning a majority of the middle class for years,” Goeas, of The Tarrance Group, said while describing the results of the Battleground Poll. “We may not talk middle class as much as Democrats do, but we are winning the middle class.”

Nearly three-quarters of Americans think of themselves as fitting that category, but they worry that the Washington policies and benefits Obama and his party embrace don’t benefit them, because the help is geared toward those on the lower rungs of the ladder.

“The voters in the middle class that the Democrats have sometimes gotten, and sometimes not, is the lower end of the middle class, and the problem with that group of voters is that the middle class is not disappearing, they’re just not moving forward,” Goeas said.

Those voters agree that the rich are getting richer, but “they also believe that the lower income and the poor get all the benefits of the government programs; they think they’re the ones paying for the lower income, not the rich,” the Republican pollster added.

The Democratic Party message heard by those voters becomes “you’re going to pay for more, so that they can get more,” he explained.

Lake suggested Democrats need a national jobs policy, or something larger than a list of individual policy proposals or a calendar of jobs-focused events the White House sponsors with the private sector. “It’s got to be big scale,” she said.

If that’s the approach Obama and Democratic lawmakers have in mind for 2015 and 2016, it remained hidden Thursday as the president’s advisers hailed what they said was a successful “year of action” in 2014.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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