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Populist, But Not Popular Message on Economy

By Peter Baker
As the presidential candidates tumble all over each other offering economic plans and expressing their concern about the prospect of recession, the two contenders who have offered populist messages aimed at the economically dislocated have not gotten as much traction as they might have expected on the issue.

As Dan Balz wrote in his Take yesterday and as we expanded on in a story in this morning's print edition, the economy has risen to become the top issue among Republicans and Democrats this year, eclipsing Iraq, immigration and terrorism. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani offered a new tax cut plan yesterday intended to stimulate the economy, while Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) plans to unveil today her own stimulus package, reportedly including $70 billion in spending and $40 billion in tax rebates.

And yet former North Carolina senator John Edwards on the Democratic side and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on the Republican side, both of whom have talked most passionately about the plight of those left behind in this economy, emerged from this week's New Hampshire primary with only a little more support among voters concerned about the economy than those who are not. The results suggest that they either have not gotten their messages through to their target audience or that economically distressed voters may simply have more faith that their party front-runners will be more electable or more likely to achieve their goals.

According to exit poll numbers compiled by Post polling director Jon Cohen, Edwards got 18 percent of the voters who consider the economy in poor or not-so-good shape compared with 12 percent among those more optimistic about the economy, and he got 19 percent among those who feel their own families are falling behind compared with 16 percent of those more confident about their situation. Similarly, Huckabee got 15 percent of those who think the economy is in bad shape, compared to 12 percent of those who think it's excellent or merely not so good. And he actually got less support among those whose own situation is declining or holding steady, 12 percent, than he did among those getting ahead, 12 percent. In Huckabee's case, he may be losing out to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), whose iconoclastic libertarian message seems to be appealing to the down-and-out part of his party -- he got 30 percent of those who think the economy is in poor condition.

Here's a chart of results that Cohen put together:

Democratic primary

Among the 38 percent of the electorate calling the economy the country's top issue: Clinton 44, Obama 35, Edwards 17.

State of national economy:
Excellent/good (14%)
Clinton 34

Obama 45

Edwards 12

Not so good (55%)
Clinton 37

Obama 40

Edwards 18

Poor (31%)
Clinton 44

Obama 31

Edwards 18

Family's financial situation:

Getting ahead (14%)
Clinton 31

Obama 48

Edwards 16

Holding steady (57%)
Clinton 38

Obama 39

Edwards 16

Falling behind (28%)
Clinton 43

Obama 33

Edwards 19

Republican Primary
Among the 31 percent of the electorate calling the economy the country's top issue: McCain 41, Romney 21, Huckabee 14, Paul 13. (Note: The GOP issue list included four issues, compared to three on the Democratic list, so the 31 percent and 38 percent are not directly comparable.)

State of national economy:

Excellent/good (49%)
McCain 33

Romney 41

Huckabee 12

Giuliani 13

Not so good (40%)
McCain 44

Romney 23

Huckabee 12

Poor (10%)
McCain 30

Romney 14

Huckabee 15

Paul 30

Family's financial situation:
Getting ahead (22%)
McCain 35

Romney 32

Huckabee 14

Holding steady (60%)
McCain 37

Romney 32

Huckabee 12

Giuliani 10

Falling behind (17%)
McCain 38

Romney 26

Huckabee 12

Paul 12

SOURCE: National Election Pool

By Washington Post editors  |  January 11, 2008; 10:14 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Cheat Sheet  
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