ANALYSIS: At Long Last, Some Pre-Election Economic Wind At Democrats’ Backs?

Democrats, for months, have been bracing for the worst in November as voter sentiment turned against them.

Midterm elections usually are unkind toward the party who holds the White House, and this year a growing anti-incumbent sentiment only has seemed to exacerbate the Democrats’ troubles.

Unemployment, and a slow economy, have driven voters to increasingly turn on President Obama and his fellow Democrats. That unemployment continued to rise and the economy continued to drag — even in the face of the massive $787 billion economic stimulus enacted by Obama and congressional Democrats — stirred deepening anxiety and worry on the part of many Americans who became more and more skeptical of the economic remedies Obama the Democrats were applying.

That angst, in turn, sometimes has spilled over into the anger that helped fuel tea party and other anti-government activists.

Of course, leading Democrats have, for the last year or so, trumpeted any bit of good economic news to come over the horizon. It’s not clear, though, that average Americans were buying the financial happy-talk — until now.

New research from a leading consumers’ group finds that the personal financial status of the American consumer is on the rise. If these latest results from the Consumer Reports Index continue to hold up, this could be the best news beleaguered Democrats could hope for in preventing another 1994 scenario in which Republicans come in to retake control of Congress.

Consumer Reports says that its Employment Index continues to push into positive territory, building on gains since April. Improvements in this index are key to building confidence, the publishers of the well-known magazine say.

The Employment Index stands at 50.6, up from 50.4 the prior month. In the past 30 days, 6.0 percent of Americans have started a new job, up from 5.0 percent in April, and up from 4.6 percent a year ago. The proportion of Americans who have lost their job in the past 30 days stands at 4.9 percent, the magazine says in a statement.

Americans faced fewer financial difficulties in May, according to Consumer Reports. The Consumer Reports Trouble Tracker Index has improved significantly, falling to 53.0 from its spike in April of 63.5, though it remains higher than a year ago (48.5). The improvement in the Trouble Tracker Index was driven by declines in the inability to afford medical bills or medication, down 2.9 percentage points; experiencing negative changes to credit card terms like increased interest rate, penalty fees, etc., down 1.7 percentage points; missing payment on a major bill – not mortgage, down 3.8 percentage points; and losing or facing reduced healthcare coverage, down 1.4 percentage points.

Perhaps most tellingly, the Consumer Reports Stress Index stands at 59.6. The level of stress consumers feel they are under is down compared to prior months and the Consumer Reports Stress Index is now at 59.6 versus April (63.8) and one year ago (62.0).

The Consumer Reports Stress Index captures attitudes regarding the amount of stress consumers feel compared to a year ago. It asks whether they are feeling more stressed or less stressed. When the Stress Index is more than 50, consumers are feeling more stress and when it is below 50 they are feeling less stress compared to a year ago. The index can vary from 100 (Total Stress) to a low of 0 (No Stress).

These numbers, in and of themselves, won’t change the dynamics heading into 2010 midterms, but if in coming months they become a trend then elected Democrats may find their own stress index reduced.

If more and more Americans feel more secure as 2010 progresses, anger toward Washington will subside, and Republicans will find it harder to motivate the numbers of voters they will require to pick up the large numbers of seats they will need to swing the House or Senate their way.

Democrats still likely will lose some seats in November — that’s almost inevitable at this point. But if these Consumers Reports results continue, their horror of a 1994 re-run will remain the stuff of their nightmares, and of Republican fantasy.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. This article was first published on

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