Economy Extends Lead As Top Issue for Voters

Like most elections since the Great Recession, economic issues will once again be the main driver for voters casting ballots in November, according to polling figures from Morning Consult. But the level of importance voters place on the overall economy has risen in just the past month, while the emphasis on jobs has subsided.

During the first week of September, 22 percent of registered voters said economic issues were motivating them to participate in the midterm elections. For 14 percent of respondents, jobs and unemployment were the top issue.

Fast forward to early October and economic issues are the main motivator for 27 percent of voters, as the importance of the labor market receded to 11 percent, according to Morning Consult data. Two separate polls during that period showed a steady trend for each issue.

Polling chart 10-13-14

In the past six weeks, government figures indicate improvements in the U.S. labor market. Employers added 248,000 workers to payrolls in September and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent, the lowest level since July 2008. That kind of news so close to an election can influence voter decisions, according to election experts.

“Evaluations of the economy in the recent past are a very important factor,” said Michael Traugott, director of the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan. “The term that political scientists give to this concept is ‘retrospective voting.’ It’s not so much that a person thinks about how well they’re doing or how their family is doing; it’s actually a more generalized concern about how Americans are doing.”

He added that even though the recovery so far has been steady, the fact that economic conditions now don’t match those prior to the recession means Democrats are poised to lose congressional seats since voters will point the finger of blame at the economic policies of a Democratic White House, even amid consistent job growth.

The amount of significant economic data between now and Election Day on Nov. 4 that’s likely to influence voters is limited to a gross domestic product report from the Commerce Department on Oct. 30. The next snapshot of the U.S. jobs market won’t be released until three days after the elections.

Morning Consult