Please Note: Voters Are Angry Because They Want Jobs

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 11 2011 2:15 PM

Please Note: Voters Are Angry Because They Want Jobs

This Vandehei/Allen thumbsucker about the ways budget-cutters are defining the 2012 GOP presidential race is worth reading, and it drives home a few essential things that keep getting missed. But this paragraph read wrong to me.

The new litmus tests for GOP presidential hopefuls are support for repealing "Obamacare" and taking a cleaver to government spending. If a presidential candidate could harness the smaller-government conservatism, temper it enough to avoid a blatant overreach and articulate a vision for a prosperous future for the country, it’s not hard to imagine swing voters finding such a person appealing.

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That's what swing voters want? I could swear they just want the economy to pick up, unemployment to fall, and wages to go back up. This is what polls say . The conversation in Washington has been entirely about deficit reduction for two months, but the NBC News/WSJ poll that came out last week had 37 percent of voters saying "job creation and economic growth" should be the government's top priority and only 22 percent saying "the deficit and government spending." These same voters were vehemently opposed to entitlement cuts.

If the economy doesn't pick up, I'll grant you, voters will stay angry at government and vote for Republicans. These Republicans could propose just about anything and beat Democrats if the economy's lousy. Where's the evidence for this idea that voters will keep caring about smaller government if the economy improves? In March 1983, unemployment was 10.3 percent, Ronald Reagan looked like a possible loser in the next year's election, and Democrats were talking about the deficit-exploding combination of his tax cuts and spending. In November 1984 unemployment was 7.2 percent, Walter Mondale was promising to cut the deficit by raising taxes, and Ronald Reagan was beating him in 49 states.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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