By Ian Swanson - 12/02/09 12:28 AM EST
A new survey from Democratic strategists Stanley Greenberg and James Carville finds voters are “pretty uncertain” that President Barack Obama’s policies will work and believe by a narrow margin that Republicans would do a better job on the economy.
Carville and Greenberg do not foresee a wave election in 2010 that would return Republicans to congressional majorities, partly because the GOP itself remains damaged from public ill will toward the last Republican Congress and former President George W. Bush.
Still, the findings illustrate the difficult headwinds Democrats face in next year’s elections, and the longtime strategists predict losses next November for Democrats, largely because a majority of the public believes the nation is seriously off track.
By 50 to 44 percent, voters say Obama has run up a deficit while failing to end the recession or slow job losses rather than help avert an even worse crisis and lay the foundation for eventual recovery, according to the survey by Democracy Corps, a nonprofit founded by Carville and Greenberg.
The chief problem for Democrats is the 10.2 percent unemployment rate, which is more likely to grow than fall over the next several months. The Bureau of Labor will offer the latest jobs report on Friday.
The answer is to focus on jobs, according to the Democracy Corps survey.
“For Democrats to reverse the slide in their standing, they need to focus with urgency on jobs,” it states.
Democrats appear to have received the message. Obama will host a jobs summit at the White House on Thursday, and the House and Senate are both making plans to move jobs bills as soon as possible.
Fifty-eight percent of those responding to the survey said they are much less likely to vote for their incumbent House member if unemployment is above 10 percent next fall and not declining. That’s a higher percentage than those who would be less likely to vote for their incumbent because of a high budget deficit, a drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average or falling home prices.
Respondents by more than a two-to-one margin rated unemployment as the most important economic problem over the budget deficit.
Repeating an argument that liberals have harped on this year, Carville and Greenberg said deficits don’t matter as much as jobs — at least for now.
“Voters put a high priority on both jobs and the deficit, but if forced to choose, they want jobs,” the survey concludes.
The priority for Democrats “has to be jobs, though voters, particularly independents, also want to see a credible commitment to reduced spending and deficits — even if it takes a year to kick in after a jobs package.”
The political left increasingly is showing its unhappiness with Obama’s economic team, but that has only extended so far in the Senate.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said the problem is that the press, public and members of Congress have short memories of last fall’s financial crisis. That’s when a Democratic Congress joined with former President George W. Bush in moving forward with a $700 billion bailout of the financial system.
“They forget what kind of situation our country was in, and the fact that both Democrats and Republicans recognized there were no good ways to get out of it, just less bad ones,” said Leahy, one of the Senate’s more liberal members.
Leahy said he believes Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is working hard and did not criticize his actions.
Neither did Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who said the important thing now is to ensure that Obama has the economic team he needs to work through the tough times. He said there will be plenty of time going forward to evaluate the administration’s performance.
Liberals on Tuesday targeted Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, saying he should provide more information on loans the Fed provided to central banks in Europe.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal interest group, set up a StopBailoutBen.com website and invited visitors to sign a petition calling on the Senate to reject Bernanke’s reappointment if he does not provide more information on what the Fed does with its funds.
The attack on Bernanke follows heavy criticism from the left on Geithner. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said there is a growing consensus among House liberals that Geithner should be fired, and he also criticized Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers.
In an article headlined “Geithner must go” on Tuesday, Brent Budowsky, a columnist for The Hill and former aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas), said Geithner has been the most “disastrous president of the New York Fed in history.”
The attacks on Geithner and Bernanke are also attacks on Obama, who handpicked Geithner and has nominated Bernanke to another term.
Political pundit Paul Begala said the tensions with the left are a worry, but pointed at failed Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds as a poster boy for why candidates in 2010 should not run from Obama.
“Virginia should have taught Democrats a lot,” he said.
Swanson is the news editor of The Hill.