Economic issues have dominated the race for the Democratic presidential nomination – and in this arena, Bernie Sanders is winning. That’s according to the early-state strategists, activists and operatives of The POLITICO Caucus, with majorities in both parties saying that Sanders has the upper hand over Hillary Clinton when…
Economic issues have dominated the race for the Democratic presidential nomination – and in this arena, Bernie Sanders is winning.
That’s according to the early-state strategists, activists and operatives of The POLITICO Caucus, with majorities in both parties saying that Sanders has the upper hand over Hillary Clinton when it comes to discussing the economy.
The special deep-dive insiders survey, conducted following Clinton’s narrow victory over Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, asked about the primacy of two different aspects of the economic conversation: jobs and the overall economy, and income inequality.
Both were major issues last week in Iowa: 33 percent of voters said the economy and jobs ranked as their most-important issue, according to the entrance polls, while another 27 percent picked income inequality. Clinton won among caucus-goers who said the economy and jobs were most important by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 42 percent – while Sanders had a big advantage among caucus-goers who picked income inequality, 61 percent to 34 percent.
Among Democratic insiders surveyed this week in the early states, 60 percent said Sanders winning the economic argument – an assessment with which more than three-quarters of Republicans agreed.
“Bernie Sanders is saying what Democrats want to hear – that there is a cause to their economic uncertainty (Wall Street and the billionaires), and that the remedy is a revolution,” said one New Hampshire Democrat, who, like all insiders, completed the survey anonymously. “Unless Hillary can re-pivot her messaging on the economic insecurity so many of us (even her supporters) feel, Bernie will continue to win the argument and dominate the conversation when it comes to economic issues.”
“Clinton's message is a laundry list of center-left specific proposals, with little universal theme,” added another New Hampshire Democrat. “Sanders is the opposite – he focuses on a universal theme of a rigged system of crooked capitalism and campaign financing to explain why people should feel as angry as they do.”
But other Democratic insiders said Sanders’ constant focus on inequality made him a “Johnny one-note” who isn’t as conversant in other policy areas.
“Sanders is the only one who talks about economics in a direct way,” a South Carolina Democrat added. “[Clinton] talks about ‘fighting for you’ and so jobs are implied, but it's not direct. Sanders is winning on economic issues because it's his only issue.”
And some Democrats stressed that while Sanders’ arguments were resonating in the Democratic race, Clinton’s positions leave her better positioned for the general election.
“Income inequality is an important issue, but it's also abstract,” said a Nevada Democrat. “Voters know it's a problem, but they don't necessarily feel income inequality in their day-to-day lives. I suspect voters in November will be more prone to voting their personal pocketbook than on macroeconomic trends. If Hillary can continue to hone in on that, she won't need to make much of a transition from her primary message to her general message.”
Here are two other takeaways from our economic deep-dive survey:
Republicans say the economy and jobs are more important than shrinking the federal deficit.
Despite a great deal of focus on national security in the GOP primary, two economic issues ranked as the highest priorities for caucus-goers surveyed in the Iowa entrance poll last week: government spending (32 percent) and the economy and jobs (27 percent).
But despite these results, Republican insiders across all four early states said voters care more about the economy (64 percent) than cutting spending (36 percent).
“Voters still favor tax incentives for new jobs,” said a South Carolina Republican. “They are always willing to spend money to recruit more jobs.”
“Spending may be more important to me personally, but Nevada has been recovering very slowly and still has the highest U6 unemployment number in the country,” added a GOP insider there. “Jobs are simply more important here.”
But some New Hampshire insiders said that isn’t the case in the first-in-the-nation primary, which will be held this week in a state where the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December of last year was only 3.1 percent.
“Lower unemployment here; government spending is a proxy big government, the seminal non-social issue,” a Republican said.
A number of Republican insiders said the two issues were intertwined for many GOP voters.
“Really they are related and most people in New Hampshire realize that truth,” said one insider there. “The more government spending, the weaker the economy.”
Democratic and Republican insiders have differing views on the state of the U.S. economy.
It isn’t just voters who are polarized about how the U.S. economy is doing – early-state political insiders feel the same way.
The vast majority of Democrats (69 percent) said the U.S. economy is getting better, while only 7 percent said it was getting worse. The remaining quarter of Democratic insiders said it was stagnant.
“We have come a long way since the great recession. People forget how bad it really was,” said one New Hampshire Democrat. “Is everybody experiencing that recovery? No, but we are moving in the right direction.”
But Republicans disagree: Only 7 percent think the economy is improving. Most (58 percent) think things are staying about the same, and 35 percent said things are getting worse.
“The middle-class Republicans I speak with feel stuck,” said a South Carolina Republican. “There's a sense that for many, this economy has passed them by.”
Some Republicans pointed to recent stock-market struggles as leading to increasing economic anxiety.
“[The] stock market is way down, and subsequently retirements are being delayed as a result,” said a South Carolina Republican. “These seniors are angry and will vote.”
One New Hampshire Republican who said the economy was staying about the same said voters’ angst was fueling Donald Trump in the GOP race, and Sanders on the other side.
“Wages in New Hampshire aren't rising, and people don't feel like they are getting ahead,” the GOP insider said. “That unease is translating in the anger that is boosting Trump and Sanders.”
These are the members of The POLITICO Caucus, not all of whom participated in this survey:
New Hampshire: Charlie Arlinghaus, Arnie Arnesen, Patrick Arnold, Rich Ashooh, Dean Barker, Juliana Bergeron, D.J. Bettencourt, Michael Biundo, Ray Buckley, Peter Burling, Jamie Burnett, Debby Butler, Dave Carney, Jackie Cilley, Catherine Corkery, Garth Corriveau, Fergus Cullen, Lou D’Allesandro, James Demers, Mike Dennehy, Sean Downey, Steve Duprey, JoAnn Fenton, Jennifer Frizzell, Martha Fuller Clark, Amanda Grady Sexton, Jack Heath, Gary Hirshberg, Jennifer Horn, Peter Kavanaugh, Joe Keefe, Rich Killion, Harrell Kirstein, Sylvia Larsen, Joel Maiola, Kate Malloy Corriveau, Maureen Manning, Steve Marchand, Tory Mazzola, Jim Merrill, Jayne Millerick, Claira Monier, Greg Moore, Matt Mowers, Terie Norelli, William O’Brien, Chris Pappas, Liz Purdy, Tom Rath, Colin Reed, Jim Rubens, Andy Sanborn, Dante Scala, William Shaheen, Stefany Shaheen, Carol Shea-Porter, Terry Shumaker, Andy Smith, Craig Stevens, Kathy Sullivan, Chris Sununu, James Sununu, Jay Surdukowski, Donna Sytek, Karen Testerman, Kari Thurman, Colin Van Ostern, Deb Vanderbeek, Mike Vlacich, Ryan Williams, Ethan Zorfas
Nevada: Adam Khan, Andres Ramirez, Andrew Diss, Barbara Buckley, Bob Cavazos, Brendan Summers, Chip Evans, Chuck Muth, Dan Hart, Daniel Stewart, Ed Williams, Emmy Ruiz, Erven T. Nelson, Greg Bailor, Heidi Wixom, Jack St. Martin, James Smack, Jay Gertsema, Jeremy Hughes, Jim DeGraffenreid, Jon Ralston, Kristen Orthman, Laura Martin, Linda Cavazos, Lindsey Jydstrup, Mac Abrams, Mari St. Martin, Marla Turner, Megan Jones, Michael McDonald, Michelle White, Mike Slanker, Neal Patel, Nick Phillips, Oscar Goodman, Pat Hickey, Paul Smith, Pete Ernaut, Peter Koltak, Riley Sutton, Robert Uithoven, Roberta Lange, Ryan Erwin, Ryan Hamilton, Sam Lieberman, Scott Scheid, Yvanna Cancela, Zach Hudson
South Carolina: Andrew Collins, Antjuan Seawright, Barry Wynn, Bob McAlister, Boyd Brown, Brady Quirk-Garvan, Bruce Haynes, Catherine Templeton, Chad Connelly, Chip Felkel, Cindy Costa, Clay Middleton, David Wilkins, Dick Harpootlian, Donna Hicks, Drea Byars, Ed McMullen, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, Ellen Weaver, Erin McKee, Gary R. Smith, Glenn McCall, Inez Tenenbaum, Isaiah Nelson, Jaime R. Harrison, James Smith, Jason Perkey, Jay W. Ragley, Jim Hodges, Jimmy Williams, Joe Erwin, Joel Sawyer, John Brisini, Kevin Bishop, Kim Wellman, Laurin Manning, Le Frye, Luke Byars, Matt Moore, Mikee Johnson, Morgan Allison, Phil Noble, Scott Farmer, Tony Denny, Trey Walker, Tyler Jones, Walter Whetsell, Warren Tompkins, Will Folks
Iowa: Tim Albrecht, Brad Anderson, Rob Barron, Jeff Boeyink, Bonnie Campbell, Dave Caris, Sam Clovis, Sara Craig, Jerry Crawford, John Davis, Steve Deace, John Deeth, Derek Eadon, Ed Failor Jr., Karen Fesler, David Fischer, Doug Gross, Steve Grubbs, Tim Hagle, Bob Haus, Joe Henry, Drew Ivers, Jill June, Lori Jungling, Jeff Kaufmann, Brian Kennedy, Jake Ketzner, David Kochel, Chris Larimer, Chuck Larson, Jill Latham, Jeff Link, Dave Loebsack, Mark Lucas, Liz Mathis, Jan Michelson, Chad Olsen, David Oman, Matt Paul, Marlys Popma, Troy Price, Christopher Rants, Kim Reem, Craig Robinson, Sam Roecker, David Roederer, Richard S. Rogers, Nick Ryan, Matt Schultz, Tamara Scott, Joni Scotter, Karen Slifka, John Smith, AJ Spiker, Norm Sterzenbach, John Stineman, Matt Strawn, Phil Valenziano, Jessica Vanden Berg, Nate Willems, Eric Woolson, Grant Young
Kristen Hayford contributed to this report.
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