By Juan Williams - 09/29/14 06:00 AM EDT
One of the biggest surprises on the midterm campaign trail is hearing President Obama echo President Reagan’s famous question by asking voters whether “you are better off than you were four years ago.”
The question is the hammer in Obama’s toolbox for nailing down his Democratic majority in the Senate in this year’s midterm election.
“By almost every economic measure, we are better off today than we were when I took office,” the president said in a Sept. 19 speech to the Women’s Leadership Forum, sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
Speaking to a Labor Day rally of union workers in Milwaukee, he also pointed to America’s improved economic performance over the last five years. “You wouldn’t know it from watching the news,” he lamented.
In fact, Reuters recently confirmed the president’s upbeat claims.
The news agency reported that, however slow, the economic recovery has lasted longer than average.
The report adds, “There seems to be more gas in the tank. The International Monetary Fund expects the U.S. economy to grow 3 percent next year and in 2016. On Obama’s watch, 5.1 million jobs have also been added to payrolls, the S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index is up about 17 percent and the S&P 500 stock index has more than doubled while hitting all-time records.”
There are more hard facts to bolster the president’s economic case.
A Kiplinger’s economic outlook from this month is full of good news. The economy “looks better than was previously thought,” Kiplinger reports, “setting the stage for more sustained growth in coming months.”
The unemployment rate has been lower over the last five months than at any point in the last five years, dropping to 6.1 percent in August. The Dow Jones industrial average is hovering around its all-time high, now regularly closing at over 17,000 points. Consumer confidence in August also rose to its highest point in almost seven years. This, in turn, is key to consumer spending, which is the biggest part of the economy.
Is all the good economic news helping Democrats with the voters? Not really – or, at least, not yet.
RealClearPolitics has 55 percent of Americans disapproving of the president’s handling of the economy, to only 40 percent approving.
Democrats must get voters to turn that negative economic view around.
This month, a CBS/New York Times poll indicated that the economy is the No. 1 issue to voters.
A September Gallup poll similarly found that, other than “dissatisfaction with government,” the top concern is “the economy in general.”
With all the good statistics, why does America’s kitchen-table assessment of the economy remain glum?
Perhaps because median household incomes fell by more than $2,100 in Obama’s first term, according to the Census Bureau. Sagging wages have created lingering discomfort and anxiety.
Democrats running for Congress are reminding voters of the GOP’s lack of interest in boosting wages for working people. The GOP has turned back efforts to raise the minimum wage and to invest in infrastructure.
Democrats also point to the House GOP’s denial of extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.
Republicans, meanwhile, are promising that, if they take total control of Congress, they will boost the economy by cutting Wall Street regulation. They also plan to fight new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and support oil and gas exploration.
Speaker John BoehnerJohn Boehner56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Trump may pose problem for Ryan in Speaker vote Conservatives backing Trump keep focus on Supreme Court MORE (R-Ohio) handed ammunition to the Democrats this month when he said some Americans have “this idea” that, instead of finding a job, “I think I’d rather just sit around.”
Before Congress left for the campaign trail, the party race to win voters, stressed out over low pay, turned into an unusual fight over the Export-Import Bank. The bank was reauthorized for only nine months.
But first, small-government Republicans — with the Club for Growth and Heritage Action support — pushed to kill the bank, blasting it as an example of “crony capitalism” and the big government “picking winners and losers.” That divided the GOP because the GOP-leaning Chamber of Commerce is supporting the bank. It points to “thousands of businesses” that risk failure without the bank.
The New York Times reports that the bank is a key issue, a “wild card” in North Carolina, Iowa and Louisiana Senate races. “Our candidates have been leaning heavily into this and this really goes to the heart of making the economy work,” a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman told the Times.
President Obama is on to something. If the midterms turn into a referendum on which party to trust to boost middle-class wages, look for Democrats to hold the Senate.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.