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On the economy, polls show Republicans with an unearned advantage

Polls show Republicans with a big advantage on the economy. But the closer one looks at the party’s lead, the less sense it makes.


Election Day 2022 is six weeks from tomorrow, and neither party can predict with confidence what’s likely to happen in this midterm cycle. Polling suggests that the more voters focus on reproductive rights, the better Democrats will do.

Those same surveys, however, suggest that the greater the focus on the economy, the better Republicans will do. The Washington Post reported yesterday, for example, on the results of its latest national poll conducted with ABC News.

The state of the economy looms as a major issue over the election. ... Voters say inflation and the economy are two of the most important issues in their decision, along with abortion and education. Republicans hold a 17-point advantage among registered voters on trust to handle the economy and an 18-point advantage on trust to handle inflation.

The results are entirely in line with the latest data from NBC News, which released its latest national poll a week earlier, and which found Republicans with a 19-point advantage over Democrats on dealing with the economy — an all-time high for the GOP in NBC News polling.

For Democrats, this is obviously a profoundly serious problem. In the wake of the recession that began during Donald Trump’s final year in office, voters are clearly focused on economic considerations as a top priority. Right now, that leaves Republicans with a big advantage on a defining issue.

But stepping back from short-term electoral considerations, there’s a larger concern: The GOP’s advantage is entirely unearned.

Recent history, for example, paints a lopsided picture. The New Republic’s Timothy Noah wrote a great piece in May noting that by literally every relevant metric — economic growth, job creation, median household income, et al. — the U.S. economy has fared better over the past several decades during eras of Democratic governance.

This is unambiguously true. In fact, over the past three decades, there have been three recessions — one under each Republican administration. Simultaneously, effectively every GOP prediction about the economy has been wrong: Republicans said Bill Clinton’s economic agenda wouldn’t work (it did), George W. Bush’s tax breaks would work wonders (they didn’t); Barack Obama’s agenda wouldn’t end the Great Recession (it did), Trump’s tax breaks would produce an economic utopia (they didn’t), and Joe Biden’s agenda couldn’t possibly lead to the creation of 10 million new jobs in a year and a half (but that’s precisely what happened).

Credibility should matter, and when it comes to the economy, the GOP doesn’t have any.

What’s more, Republicans barely even try to claim that they have anything resembling an economic agenda. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy unveiled his party’s “Commitment to America” blueprint on Friday, and it was vague to the point of comedy on economic policy.

Voters learned, for example, that a GOP majority on Capitol Hill would “curb wasteful government spending.” Such as? Republicans won’t say. The same document assured the public that the party would pursue “pro-growth” tax policies, without any explanation of what that might entail or how many more breaks the party intends to throw at millionaires and billionaires.

For the electorate to put its faith in the GOP’s economic plans is to effectively endorse a black box.

Complicating matters is the uncomfortable fact that Republican gains in the midterm elections would likely make the economy worse, not better: GOP lawmakers have already expressed interest in creating a debt ceiling crisis and at least one government shutdown, which would likely take a serious toll on our economic health.

I don’t doubt that the data is accurate and the Republicans’ advantage is real. But the closer one looks at the party’s lead, the less sense it makes.