Could it really be as simple as falling gas prices? President Bush is enjoying a bump up in the polls: His approval ratings-as measured by the USA Today/Gallup Poll-have drifted up from the mid-30s in early June to 44 percent now, their highest levels in more than a year. And this rebound comes despite Americans' widespread unhappiness over the war in Iraq, anxiety about rising income inequality, and job insecurity bred of globalization.Read the whole thing. The article analyzes five areas of economic activity -- wage growth, trends in GDP, jobs and unemployment, the stock market, and housing -- suggesting how evaluations of each might play on election day.
Gas prices are down more than 66 cents a gallon in the past seven weeks, easing inflation worries and boosting the stock market, with the Dow Jones industrial average close to a record high. Last week, the Conference Board reported that consumers' outlook for the next six months had improved markedly since August.
The timing for a turnaround certainly is auspicious for Republicans going into the November 7 midterm congressional elections. All year long, Democrats have been trouncing Republicans in the polls, seemingly poised to retake one or both houses of Congress. But the latest Gallup survey found voter preferences split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Is the economy suddenly giving the GOP a lift? Indirectly, says James Campbell, a University at Buffalo-SUNY political science professor and author of Before the Vote: Forecasting American National Elections. "With congressional elections, the economy only directly matters at the margins," he explains. "But the economy does affect presidential approval ratings, and they do affect congressional elections."
As he stumps for GOP candidates, the president is talking more and more about the economy, first because he believes it is trending his way and second, many suspect, because he wants to distract voters from an unpopular war. Just last week, Bush carried the "good news" economic message to Meyer Tool in Cincinnati, while also continuing to pound home the theme that the Grand Old Party is better equipped to fight the war against global terrorism. That argument has also boosted Bush, some pols believe.
Bush, in any case, is smart to play the economic card, for he's got a historically enviable economic record (just ask Jimmy Carter, or Bush's dad, G.H.W., for that matter).
Note though, that at this stage of his presidency, when his Republican partisans face midterm elections, the historical record suggests party losses. Dwight Eisenhower's Republican Party in 1958 saw a loss of 47 House seats and 13 in the Senate. Ronald Reagan and the Republicans lost 5 House seats and 8 in the Senate in 1986, and Bill Clinton -- in 1994, the year Democrats hope will be a harbinger of 2006 -- lost 52 House seats and 8 in the Senate.
We'll see what happens on November 7th, though the Mark Foley scandal can't help GOP chances.