The economy isn’t the biggest topic on Katherine Cousins’ mind as Tuesday midterm elections draw closer.
It’s the Trump administration’s tone and policies, which she says have lowered the country’s standing around the globe.
“I’m not thinking about the election primarily from an economic standpoint,” says Cousins, 45, who lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts. “I’m so shocked by how much our country has declined over two years in terms of what we stand for.”
Yet she says the economy – specifically Trump’s escalating trade war and the rise in health care costs – still ranks high and will be an important reason she’s voting for Democratic candidates.
Her view of the economy’s role in Tuesday’s vote captures the sentiment of much of the country on both the left and right of the political spectrum as voters digest the best U.S. economy and labor market in more than a decade.
With unemployment at a near 50-year low, the share of Americans mentioning the economy as the nation’s most important problem was near the lowest on record in October at 13 percent, according to a Gallup poll. That’s down from a peak of 86 percent during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 and as high as 53 percent in 2014.
“This time around it may very well be, ‘It is not the economy, stupid! It is other issues,'” says Ed Yardeni, president and chief investment strategist at Yardeni Research. “Everyone is pretty happy.”
“The average Joe and Jane isn't worrying too much about a recession," Yardeni adds. "From their perspective, if they lose their job or quit a job they can go find another one.”
Yet the economy still ranked fourth among top election issues, behind health care, immigration and taxes, and the deficit, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll in October. That beat 14 other issues, from gun control to the opioid crisis.
Seventy-four percent of voters – including 85 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans – say the economy is “very important” to their votes, according to a Pew Research Center survey in late September.
This time, however, it’s not all about jobs, jobs, jobs. The trade war, taxes, the impact of immigration policy on the labor market and rising health care costs were the top economic issues cited by voters interviewed by USA TODAY. Some voters appear not as deeply partisan as in past elections, saying they’ll likely pick both Democratic and Republican candidates, depending on their stances on specific issues.
Take a 'wrecking ball' to economy
That hasn’t stopped Trump from casting the election in far more dire economic terms. “At stake in this Election is whether we continue the extraordinary prosperity we have achieved — or whether we let the Radical Democrat Mob take a giant wrecking ball to our Country and our Economy!” Trump tweeted this week.
That warning doesn’t square with many economists’ analyses. Michael Feroli of JPMorgan Chase notes the federal tax cut passed late last year – which Trump touts as his biggest accomplishment – is a done deal and won’t be modified even if Democrats gain control of both the House and Senate because the president would veto the measure. And Trump’s rollback of many regulations were carried out by executive action rather than legislation.
All of the possible outcomes of the election are “unlikely to generate legislation that would have a major economic impact,” Feroli says.
“We would guess if this election is a referendum on President Trump it is going to be more about the man's style, love him or hate him, the overall tone of his governance and less about what he has done in terms of policy or what measures he has taken to boost the economy,” says Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG, a Tokyo-based global bank with offices in New York.