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The Partisan Economy

Pew Research Center reports tend to be chock-full of interesting tidbits about public opinion, and the latest survey, released yesterday, is no exception. It's worth taking a read through the entire summary. Obviously like any poll its results need to be taken with a grain of salt, but the overarching conclusion (to no one's surprise) is that public perceptions of the economy are about as low as they've been since 1992. Absent some major event, it's looking more and more like the economy will be a defining issue of the general election campaign--one reason why James Fallows thinks Mitt Romney, not John McCain, might be the strongest GOP candidate. It's also worth noting, as Matt Yglesias points out, that Republican voters do not appear to be as dogmatically anti-tax as you'd think just from listening to the Republican presidential candidates: only 44 percent of Republicans (and 37 percent of Democrats) consider making the Bush tax cuts permanent to be a "top priority".

To my mind, though, the most interesting chart (above) in the report is the one that gives the partisan breakdown of public perceptions of the economy. It's remarkable how much more overtly partisan responses to this question have become during the Bush era. During the Clinton years there was almost no gap between Republican and Democratic perceptions of the economy; during the Bush years the gap has widened to thirty points or more. There are a couple different explanations one might offer. It could be, like Nolan McCarty and his pals argue, that there's a connection between growing income inequality and growing partisanship--or it could be that the polarizing impact of the Iraq war is spilling over into other areas, as respondents simply view this question as a proxy for "do you support President Bush?". It's also possible that the partisan difference during the Clinton years was simply abnormally low, as Democrats (who would normally be inclined to give the economy lower marks than their GOP counterparts) rallied to Clinton's side out of partisan love, buoyed in part by an era of (comparatively) widely shared economic growth. Either way, the gap's fairly large.

--Josh Patashnik