Economy: The Glass is Both Filling and Rapidly Emptying

The bifurcated statistics of the economy and the public mood.

Photographer: Chris Stein

For months—and, in fact, years—voters have named the economy their highest-priority issue. Forty-five percent of voters coming away from casting their ballots tonight gave it as their chief concern. Fox’s preliminary exit poll data shows that 70% of the country holds a negative view of the economy. Sixty-five percent of the nation, according to CNN’s own exit polls, believes that America’s headed in the wrong direction.

There is another set of statistics that is quite dissonant from these poll numbers: The economy is expanding at a rate of 3.5 percent. Last week, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers called this steady growth "consistent with a broad range of other indicators showing improvement in the labor market, rising consumer sentiment, increasing domestic energy security and continued low health cost growth. The unemployment is now under six percent."

So why don't the poll numbers square with the country's mood, as reflected in the exit poll numbers? Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight reports tonight on the states where voters were most pessimistic in casting their votes—West Virginia, Louisiana, Kansas and Arkansas—whereas the states that are the most optimistic (or, really, the least pessimistic) were Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado, Oregon and Illinois. Casselman writes: “There’s pretty much no relationship between those responses and the states’ unemployment rates. In Kansas, for example, 72 percent of voters say the country is on the wrong track, despite an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent, one of the best in the country. Voters in Oregon, meanwhile, are fairly optimistic despite a 7.1 percent unemployment rate.”

Then there's the counterintuitive fact that, for the average household in the country, things remain pretty bad. Though recently we've had growth, the growth came in the wake of the steep decline of the financial crisis. And median household income peaked in 1999—anyone would be frustrated if he or she had gone fifteen years without a raise.

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