Finley: This time, it's not the economy, stupid
If the primary motivator in the 2020 election were the economy, as it most often is in presidential contests, Donald Trump would be a shoo-in for reelection.
The economy is doing great. It's in the longest expansion in its history, recession free for a solid decade. There are more jobs than workers looking for them. Wages are climbing. Home values are rising, too. And confidence in the future by both consumers and employers is high.
Voters are content with this performance. A remarkable two-thirds describe the economy as good, according to a new survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
But Trump is not getting the boost most other presidents seeking a second term have received during eras of prosperity.
Fewer than half of voters (47 percent) credit Trump with the good times. Most don't think much of his tariffs, and worry that his trade policies risk doing more damage than good.
Campaign strategist James Carville in 1992 coined the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid" to remind Bill Clinton's campaign team that little else mattered to voters than the recession that was then gripping the nation. That focus carried Clinton to an upset of President George H.W. Bush.
But at the start of the 2020 presidential contest, just 14 percent of voters view the economy as the nation's most pressing problem, according to a Gallup poll. Wage issues and the income gap between rich and poor, subjects that dominated last week's Democratic debates, are top of mind for just 1 percent of the electorate.
So why are the Democratic candidates spending so much time trash-talking the economy and pushing the false narrative that it's only working for the wealthy and Wall Street?
That's a losing strategy. Americans clearly see the reality that they are better off financially than they were four years ago. And that's OK. It doesn't mean Trump will get their votes.
A Democratic nominee can win this election without spooking voters about the economy because that's not what they care about this time.
Non-economic issues are on their mind — 87 percent list them as their primary concern. And topping the list is leadership, at 26 percent. Voters want a leader.
Many Trump supporters dismiss his instability and character flaws by saying, "Look what he's done for the economy."
But that's not swaying the majority of voters who apparently believe the economy would be doing just fine with or without Trump, and are looking for a president who behaves presidentially.
The winning message for Democrats in 2020 is, "It's not the economy, stupid." The economy doesn't need the major overhaul most of the Democratic hopefuls are calling for on the campaign trail. And it certainly won't benefit from a dose of socialism.
Americans are satisfied with the economy. A Democratic candidate can reach them with the assurance that he or she can keep the economic train rolling on its current track, but do so without all the drama, extremism and boorish behavior that accompanies the current occupant of the White House.
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