Anemic Economic Growth Weighing Down Democrats Midterm Hopes

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson has a unique recommendation for his fellow Democrats: “If you want to win in the fall,” Robinson writes, “take some advice from Pharrell Williams: ‘Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.’”

Robinson’s counsel is politically wise. Democrats desperately need their voters to get excited about this election. Unless they get motivated—and soon—to show up at the polls then November could be a wave election that dwarfs 2010. But unlike Robinson, Americans aren’t singularly focused on the electoral fortunes of their party. No, they are much more concerned about pocketbook issues – the level of joblessness, the strength of economic growth, and the cost of things like health insurance.

In truth, there is little to feel happy about on those fronts. As CNN recently reported, the economy is especially troubling:

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, grew at a 0.1% annual pace in the first quarter, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Wednesday.

That’s brutally slow, even by sluggish post-recession standards. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the economy has been growing at a rate of about 2% to 3% per year.

“We’ve been living in sub 3-percent land, and people have gotten used to that as the new normal,” Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes told the New York Times. “But it’s not. It’s anemic.”

Sadly, GDP growth isn’t the only weak economic indicator of crucial importance to Americans. As the New York Times’ reported, there are other reasons that much of the electorate “remains very skeptical that things are getting any better”:

Part of the reason for that is because so much slack is left in the labor market that wage growth is only improving very slowly. For example, a separate report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday on the employment cost index showed that private sector wages and salaries in the first quarter of 2014 increased at the slowest rate since the bureau began tracking the data in March 1980.

For Democrats, who were desperately counting on an improving economy in order to sweep the deeply-unpopular Obamacare morass under the rug, the recent news has to be troubling. But they have only themselves to blame. The intense government involvement early in President Obama’s term, in which hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars, were shipped out to handpicked (and often ridiculous) projects did very little to spark broad based growth. Nor did the inability of the president to “pivot” back to the economy from other lesser issues in the latter parts of the president’s term.

What was always lacking was an effort to expand free market opportunities – to reduce unnecessary regulations, to pave the paths of investment, and to pursue new markets for American goods. Instead, Democrats spent money until we were broke and then sat on their hands in hopes something would change.

And now the economy remains at stall speed and Democrats’ electoral hopes remain in the dumps. USA Today’s Susan Page and Kendall Breitman report:

Democrats hoping improvements in the economy’s course and the Affordable Care Act’s implementation would level the playing field for November’s elections should brace themselves.

A nationwide USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll shows the strongest tilt to Republican candidates at this point in a midterm year in at least two decades, including before partisan “waves” in 1994 and 2010 that swept the GOP into power. Though Election Day is six months away — a lifetime in politics — at the moment, Democrats are saddled by angst over the economy, skepticism about the health care law and tepid approval of the president. . .

By more than 2-1, 65%-30%, Americans say they want the president elected in 2016 to pursue different policies and programs than the Obama administration, rather than similar ones.

Democrats can clap their hands and sing the happy dance all they want. But until Americans see that jobs are more plentiful, that wages are rising, and that health care costs are falling, voters are going to want more than just happy talk.