Is it 1992 and the Economy, Stupid? Deja Vu all Over Again; McCain loses Lead among Men, is 7 Points Down

Is Barack Obama in some sense Clinton 2.0 when it comes to the public’s perception of what the candidate could do for the economy?

Just as Clinton benefited in 1992 from a feeling of economic malaise in the country, so too is is Obama getting advantages from the public’s having announced to pollster’s that the economy their number one concern. Of course, the vast majority of Americans is convinced that the Iraq War has worsened the country’s economic posture, so the two are not unrelated.

A Reuters/Zogby poll found:

‘Dissatisfaction with U.S. economic policy continues to increase, with 89% who now view the nation’s economic policy as fair or poor, up from 84% who said the same last month – 55% now give U.S. economic policy a “poor” rating. The vast majority of Democrats (96%) and political independents (91%) have a negative view of the nation’s economic policy, while 80% of Republicans now share those feelings, an increase from 71% who said the same in June.’

Republicans who think the relative decline in violence in Iraq will save their bacon should remember that the Gulf War was an unambiguous win for Bush Sr., but he still lost to Clinton. A lesser disaster following upon a major catastrophe is a much worse platform on which to campaign than the one Bush Sr. had. Of course, the crisis in the Gulf was politically ambiguous because it had put back up petroleum prices (they rose from $9 a barrel in 1986 to over $40 a barrel in 1991).

In any case, in 1992 the American public was just not that concerned with the victory over Iraq in Kuwait; they were worried about a real estate bust and a recession (which was technically ending, but these things are never known for sure as they are happening.) The Savings and Loan scandal, which cost the public $100 bn. and occurred because the Republican had fired the auditors of these financial institutions and coddled the white collar criminals who funded their campaigns, was fresh in people’s minds. McCain, of course, was close to a major figure in that S&L scandal.

The bank scandals (deriving in part from the Republican Party’s tendency to weaken or ignore regulations constraining corruption in big business, thus promoting fraud on a vast scale), the spike in oil prices, the anxieties around recession– all of this must strike any observer who lived through 1992 as eerily familiar.

There is even a third party challenge by Bob Barr that may take votes away from McCain just as Ross Perot took them 2 to 1 away from Bush Sr. rather than Clinton.

Zogby/Reuters report that:

‘Democrat Barack Obama continues to maintain his lead over Republican John McCain in the race for U.S. President and is viewed as the candidate who could best manage the U.S. economy – even as nearly half of likely voters list the economy as their top election issue . . . Obama leads McCain, 47% to 40%, with 13% saying they prefer someone else or are not yet sure about their selection in the race—just a slight shift from June’s survey, when Obama led McCain 47% to 42%. While Obama maintains a significant lead among women, among men the candidates are now deadlocked at 44%, erasing the six-point lead among men McCain held in June. Both candidates receive strong support among voters from their own party, but the 22-point lead among political independents Obama held in June has withered and now stands at 44% for Obama, compared with 41% for McCain.’

A 7 point lead is well beyond the margin of error. And so is the erasure of McCain’s lead among men. If the men are splitting their vote, Obama will win, since the women favor him by a significant margin. Again, something like that happened with Clinton.

Clinton and Obama are both policy wonks and people it is clear you could trust an economy to (unlike Bush and McCain, who are all about giveaways to the rich, their own social class). But Clinton and Obama are also hunks, whom men admire for their lithe physicality and over whom women swoon.

In a bad economy, Americans seem to want to be saved not so much by a man on a white horse as by a brilliant hunk.