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America in the World: Voter Attitudes on the Economy

- August 1, 2008

p. In his column in today’s New York Times, David Brooks argues that one reason George W. Bush (along with colleagues in Japan, Britain, France, Italy and Germany) has such low approval ratings is that “voters rightly sense that leaders lack the authority to address problems.” It ain’t the late 1940s, when Dean Acheson and the gang could run the world, says Brooks.

p. In that regard, it’s worth noting the numbers just released by the Pew Research Center on attitudes toward the economy, which has emerged as the number one issue of concern to voters. The recent Pew survey finds that a sizable majority of Americans across the spectrum do actually believe that the federal government has the power to fix the economy. Bush’s numbers aren’t low because voters think he lacks authority to address problems; they’re low because voters aren’t happy with his policies.

p. There is a larger problem, however, reflected in the Pew numbers, and they remind us how politics intruded on the Doha round. It wasn’t just India and China showing what Brooks calls “parochial interests.” It also reflects the politics of trade in the United States, as we also saw earlier this year with respect to the free trade pact with Colombia. In the Pew survey approximately 65% of respondents (regardless of party), believe the global economy is having a negative impact on the United States. And as the next president does try to fix America’s economic problems, those kinds of numbers and thus the politics of trade are going to make that effort that more difficult.