Thursday, June 29, 2006

Will Gas Prices Drag Down the Republicans in November?

The new Los Angeles Times poll, "Economic Jitters an Albatross for Bush," finds just half of the respondents indicating satisfaction with the strength of the national economy. Oddly, the survey's results coincide with the new upward adjustment of first quarter GDP growth to 5.6 percent. Presidents are usually blamed for poor economic performance, but Bush can't seem to get a break, despite the administration's aggressive campaign to trumpet the economy's strengths:

The findings suggest that there isn't much Bush can do to improve his standing on these issues in the short run because unemployment is low by historical standards and the price of energy is largely beyond the president's control. The national unemployment rate has been steadily declining over the last three years, from 6.3% in June 2003 to 4.6% last month, the lowest rate since 2001. Bush notes the economy's health almost every time he speaks on domestic issues — most recently on Tuesday, when he told a conservative conference: "We're the envy of the industrialized world … and as the result of the growing economy, the national unemployment rate is 4.6%. That's low. That means your fellow citizens are going to work. That means people are having a chance to put food on the table." But administration officials have expressed frustration at the difficulty of gaining widespread public credit for the economy's strengths in the face of high gasoline prices — a basic economic reality that confronts drivers every day. "Higher energy prices do make it more difficult for people to feel like the economy is doing well," Dan Bartlett, one of Bush's top aides, said Wednesday.He added that the war in Iraq "also makes it difficult for people to feel optimistic about the overall economy. The administration will continue to press the case."
Sixty percent of those polled said that Bush bears responsibility for the high costs of gas. The president's party usually loses seats in midterm elections -- for example, the Republicans lost 5 House seats in 1986 during the Reagan administration, and the Democrats lost 52 seats in 1994, when Clinton was in office. Nineteen-ninety-four was, of course, the year of the GOP electoral earthquake, and perceptions of a slow econonomic recovery contributed to the Democratic losses. Gas prices are coming down though, so it remains to be seen how stable these poll number will be, and what affect they may have on GOP prospects for maintaining majority control this fall.

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