News / USA

Jobless Rate Drives Voter Unrest in US Election Campaign

U.S. voters go to the polls in seven weeks to elect a new Congress, and political experts say the economy will be the top issue in this year's election, especially the high unemployment rate.

The national unemployment rate sits at 9.6 percent, and economists expect little change between now and Election Day in November.

Public concern over the high jobless rate is the number-one issue in the election, says Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.

"I think people make decisions based on what they see in their lives.  You know they are still worried about their jobs, they are still worried about their brother-in-law's job," Brown said.

The unemployment rate also drives the general public perception of how the economy and the country are doing as a whole.  And Peter Brown says the data he sees suggests Americans are growing more pessimistic about their own economic futures.

"The thing that should worry the White House is that a plurality of Americans now think that the economy is getting worse," he says, "not better, whereas in the spring it was the other way around."

The economic recession in the United States has spread the fear of losing a job far and wide, says F.D. Americas chief Ed Reilly.  He presented some survey results at a recent political forum sponsored by the National Journal.

"Seventy percent of the respondents in our poll said a member of their family or someone close to them had lost their job or been laid off.  The depth and the breadth of this recession is felt by all Americans, and given that it is not surprising that the number one thing they are looking for in terms of rebuilding their confidence or a sense of things moving in the right direction is a decrease in unemployment," Reilly said.

Democrats are clearly worried that the stubbornly high jobless rate will lead to extensive Republicans gains in November.

"The black hole of this election year is the economy," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, "the rotten economy, the high unemployment rate.  That is what is hurting Democrats."

President Barack Obama is trying to convince voters that his administration is doing all it can to spur economic growth and create jobs even though only modest private sector job growth has been reported in recent months.

Mr. Obama notes that millions of jobs were lost before he came into office in 2009 and that he empathizes with those looking for work.

"That is a huge hole to dig ourselves out of and people who have lost their jobs around the country and cannot find one, moms who are sending out resumes and not getting calls back, worried about losing homes and not being able to pay bills, they are not feeling good right now," the president said.  "And I understand that."

Republicans expect to benefit from the public discontent over the economy.  House Republican leader John Boehner, who appeared Sunday on CBS News' Face the Nation program, says the White House and congressional Democrats have made the jobless situation worse by spending billions of dollars to stimulate the economy and expand health care coverage.

"We need to control spending in Washington, D.C.," Boehner said, "and we need to remove the uncertainty that clouds are economy from all of these new policies and programs being enacted by this Congress."

There is plenty of history to illustrate why Democrats are worried about the jobless rate as the election draws near.

In 1982, Republicans lost 26 House seats during President Ronald Reagan's first term in office when the unemployment rate soared up to 10.8 percent near Election Day.

In 1958, Republicans lost 47 seats after the jobless rate rose steadily from 4.3 percent to 7.5 percent close to the election.

This year Republicans are looking for a repeat of their 1994 trouncing of Democrats when they had a net gain of 54 House seats and won control of the House for the first time in 40 years.

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