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National Politics|By Amy Walter, April 10, 2014

Despite a less-than-rosy economy, President Obama won re-election due in large part to the fact that he made the race a referendum on Mitt Romney and his "47 percent" ideology. Two years later, the economy looks better on paper, but voters aren't seeing it. That means Democrats will once again make an election a referendum not on how good things are under Democrats, but how terrible they will be under GOP rule. It may work. It may not. But, it's the only play they've got. And, Republicans have done little to nothing to change perception that they, like Romney, are "out of touch" with the concerns of average Americans.

Six years after the financial crisis began, voters are as pessimistic as ever about the state of the U.S. economy. Polling taken for CNBC by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies has tracked this depressing trend since early 2008. Back in December of 2008, 54 percent of Americans said they were pessimistic about the current state of the economy and pessimistic for the future. Today, that number is at 60 percent. The percentage of voters who said they were pessimistic now but optimistic for the future has steadily dropped since December of 2008 from 37 percent then to just 19 percent in March of 2014. Back in December of 2007, 56 percent of employed Americans expected to see their wages increase over the next year. A year later, just 41 percent of Americans expected a raise. Since 2008, an overwhelming majority don't expect to see a bump in their pay. As of this March, just 33 percent expected a raise, while 61 percent said it would stay the some.

In other words, Americans see themselves living in a type of economic purgatory. Not only do they think things are bad today, but they don't believe things are going to get better any time soon.

More ominous for Democrats, however, is how much more negatively their base feels about the state of the economy than they did at the end of the 2012 campaign.

Americans View Of The Economy: Pessimistic Now/Pessimistic For The Future


Nov. 2012March 2014
Women52%62% (+10)
Non-white27%51% (+24)
Making under $50k/year51%62% (+11)
Age 18-2950%58% (+8)

Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies CNBC AAES Survey, March 13-16, 2014. N=810 Adults

Across the board, voters that make up the Democratic coalition--women, minorities, young people, and economically downscale voters--are more pessimistic about the economy than they were in 2012. They are even slightly more pessimistic than they were back in October of 2010.

This is why, of course, you see Democrats putting the full-court press on issues like a minimum wage and pay equity. They need to get their base fired up and they will point to the GOP's intransigence on these issues as a way to do it. The Republicans, of course, are helping play into this dynamic by refusing to take up an long-term unemployment extension in the House and filibustering a pay-equity bill in the Senate.

What's not clear, however, is if this will be enough to motivate a group of voters who, almost two years after the president was re-elected, are feeling even worse about their economic prospects.

The CNBC poll painted a mixed and contradictory measure. On the one hand, the heavy public PR campaign by Democrats on a minimum wage increase seems to have worked. In December of 2013, just 36 percent of Americans said they "strongly favored" an increase in the minimum wage. This March, however, that number jumped 13 points to 49 percent. Most of that movement was among Democrats and independents.

However, more people also believe the GOP argument that raising the minimum wage would increase prices and make the economy less fair. In 1996, 62 percent of Americans said raising the minimum wage would increase prices. Today, 70 percent believe an increase in the minimum wage would raise prices. Today, just 39 percent of Americans think a minimum wage increase would make the economy "more fair", a five-point drop from 1996, while 25 percent thought it would make the economy "less fair"--a 16-point increase.

Republicans may be able to count on a depressed Democratic base to boost their prospects in November. But, if they are going to win a national election, they have to offer voters serious alternatives to the programs that Democrats are putting forward. More important, they have to address this deep-seeded pessimism among Americans with something more than cries to repeal Obamacare or cut the deficit. Voters may not have faith that Obama is going to fix the economy, but they also don't believe that Republicans are going to make it better for people like them.