Next month, voters across Virginia and the country will exercise their right to choose their government.
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,” writes Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence.
So, at this moment in time, just what are voters thinking in Virginia as we head down the homestretch?
“[It’s] the economy, stupid.”
Such is the political dictum James Carville, campaign strategist for former President Bill Clinton, famously quipped in 1992, and has been often repeated as gospel since.
Despite Clinton facing “bimbo eruptions,” the “Comeback Kid” focused his personality and efforts on an economic message that resonated with voters.
Promising tax cuts for the middle-class, increased home ownership, and a “new American health care plan,” voters bought his economic message and sent him to Washington.
However, it wasn’t without trepidation. Also running in 1992 was Ross Perot. The Texas billionaire focused his campaign on the economy too and won over many who were frustrated with politics as usual. His campaign gave voice to an underlying voter angst that has ultimately found a home in today’s Republican Party. Perhaps that is a subject for a future column.
The incumbent, President George H.W. Bush, was blasted as elite for failing to know the price of a gallon of milk and not knowing how to read his own lips.
Fast-forwarding to today, the economy is booming and consumer sentiment couldn’t be better.
The last time gross domestic product fell was the first quarter of 2014, and it has been expanding for 17 straight quarters. It just registered 4.1 percent growth – the best performance since the third quarter of 2014.
Unemployment in Virginia just fell to 3 percent in August, lower than before the Great Recession. Employment and labor force numbers exceed 4.2 million – well above numbers found before the downturn.
However, our economic optimism is definitely colored by red or blue lenses.
According to Roanoke College, in the third quarter of 2018, those who identify as Republicans have a consumer sentiment — a measurement of economic health — of nearly 125 and Democrats of just over 75, still a good number. But the gap of nearly 50 points is the largest it’s been since the college began collecting the data. “A similar trend is seen at the national level and suggests that respondent beliefs about the current and future economy depend, in part, upon the parties holding the highest offices and if they match personal affiliations,” the college finds.
Why does this matter? Because it means Democrats do not intend to vote based upon our economic performance at all. It’s all about Trump.
The University of Mary Washington conducted a poll of Virginia voters the first week of September and found that Trump’s approval in Virginia is abysmal. Trump scores just 37 percent approval, with 58 percent disapproving of the president.
“The latest Mary Washington survey demonstrates that President Trump will be of limited value to Republican candidates in swing districts in Virginia,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, professor of political science at the university. “Negative evaluations of the president in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area are making a bad situation worse for endangered Republican members of Congress.”
The university also looked at the U.S. senate race and found that the president would be a major factor with one-third of the voters. Among them, incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine leads his Republican challenger Corey Stewart by 25 percentage points.
Going even further, the survey found that Democrats were a lock for Kaine at 90 percent, but only 73 percent of Republicans were solidly behind Stewart.
In the Second Congressional District, Democrat Elaine Luria released internal polling showing her leading Rep. Scott Taylor by eight points, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Such is the picture with one month to go. And for Republicans, the picture is bleak. I guess it’s not the economy after all.
Hoeft, a retired Navy spokesperson, hosts The J.R. Hoeft Show, a weekly podcast available via jrhoeft.com. The one-time columnist for The Daily Press has been involved in or covering Virginia politics and public policy for more than two decades. He lives in the Hickory area of Chesapeake.
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