Politics Counts: Political Split on Voters’ Economic Outlooks

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The 2012 campaign is being driven by the economy. Polls  show it, including this week’s latest Wall Street Journal/NBC survey. And analysts say it, as they tie the outcome in November to things like GDP growth, the stock market trend and the unemployment rate.

But as summer drags on and the presidential campaign heats up, we may be seeing opposite as well.  Voters’ thoughts about the economy, or at least about its future, look like they may be tied tightly to their personal politics.

This latest WSJ/NBC poll asked what seems a very straightforward question: “During the next twelve months, do you think that the nation’s economy will get better, get worse, or stay about the same?” And the overall answer was hardly revelatory: 27% said it would get better, 25% said it would get worse and 45% said it would stay the same. Pretty close to a split overall.

But slice the results along different political and demographic lines and the numbers look very different. In short, voter blocs that tend to lean toward President Obama feel much better about the future of the economy than those that favor presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Among Mr. Obama’s more supportive demographic slices, 51% of African Americans believe the economy will get better in the next 12 months, while only 8% expect it to get worse. Among Hispanics, 37% expect the economy to improve, while 14% think it will decline. Voters who describe themselves as politically “liberal” see a better future – 43% expect the economy to get better. And those who support Mr. Obama see a sunnier year ahead, 44% expect the economy to be better in a year compared to 7% who believe it will be worse.

On the side of the political spectrum, the economic horizon is decidedly more gloomy. White voters, who lean as a group toward Mr. Romney, are expecting a tougher year ahead, with 29% saying the economy will be worse and 22% saying it will be better. Self-described “conservatives” believe things will be worse next July: 40% say it will decline in the next 12 months, compared with 15% who believe it will be better. And 42% of Romney supporters say the economy will be in worse shape, while only 10% believe it will be better.

One may look at those numbers and think, well, maybe economic optimists tend to be Obama supporters, while economic pessimists favor Mr. Romney. But there are reasons to doubt that theory. For the rest of this week's Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's website.