GOP pollster: Healthcare distracts Dems

The economy remains atop voters' minds, and Democrats' focus on healthcare means the majority is neglecting a key issue with the electorate, according to a prominent Republican pollster.

In a memo to House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio), to be distributed to the House Republican Conference this week, GOP pollster David Winston writes 37 percent of voters say jobs and the economy remain their most important issue, while 20 percent say healthcare tops the list.


That tracks other polls that have also showed the economy topping the charts. A recent CBS News poll, conducted Oct. 5-8, shows 45 percent of Americans calling jobs and the economy the top issue, with 20 percent citing healthcare. Still, those numbers are down from earlier this year, when a majority of voters picked jobs and the economy, dwarfing every other issue.

"Yet as jobs reports continue to be grim and as Americans question whether the stimulus has worked, the president and congressional Democrats remain focused on health insurance reform rather than the economy," Winston wrote.

And with the unemployment rate continuing to rise, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhite House debates vaccines for air travel Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward MORE's approval rating has dropped seven points since June.

Meanwhile, the survey found some troubling news for Democrats, who hope a growing economy will help them by making the economic stimulus measure an electoral winner. According to the poll, 56 percent of registered voters say the economy is not in recovery until jobs are being created.

Most economists believe the unemployment rate, which stands at 9.8 percent, will not come down until sometime next year. Voters agree with BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE, by a 54 percent to 38 percent margin, that the unemployment rate shows the economic stimulus plan is not working.

Even as the healthcare debate dominates headlines, Winston said, Republicans should press for an advantage on the economy.

"Americans want to see solutions that will improve the economy and are not convinced that Democratic stimulus policies have worked. This provides congressional Republicans with the important opportunity to offer their ideas in a comprehensive and cohesive way on the issue voters feel is most pressing — the economy/jobs," he wrote.

Though attention may be focused on the healthcare debate, Democratic strategists have not been lulled into a false sense of security over what will dominate voters' attitudes next year.

In an interview with The Hill earlier this week, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, admitted that the unemployment rate has been a lagging indicator.

"The trends are still [moving] in the right direction. If you were to see a reversal in the current trends, that could spell trouble," Van Hollen said. But, he said, the stimulus has "undeniably prevented things from getting a lot worse."