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In Iowa Polls, Eyeing Economic Signals

Author: Toni Johnson
January 3, 2012

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Though foreign policy issues will likely play a role, the U.S. economy is expected to dominate the 2012 presidential election, which kicks off in Iowa this week. Iowa is one of a handful of states that can boast one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates (CNN). Florida and South Carolina, which hold Republican contests later in the month, have unemployment rates higher than the national average, which has hovered at well over 8 percent (Bloomberg). But economic issues such as jobs and the budget deficit will likely play a significant role (USAToday) as Iowa voters weigh Republican candidates.

What's at Stake

The state of the U.S. economy has weighed heavily on voter minds for the last four years and has led to a spate of protests from both the Tea Party on the right to the Occupy movement on the left. The country faces persistently high unemployment, a growing deficit, a shrinking middle class, and a sluggish housing crisis. Whether the economy will strengthen in the New Year is a matter of great speculation (ABC). Some analysts forecast a possible recession (CSMonitor) especially with issues ranging from unrest in the Middle East to the eurozone crisis unresolved.

Voters have expressed deep concerns about Washington's management of the economy (TheHill). Lawmakers and the Obama administration have remained embroiled in a near stalemate over tax policy, deficit reduction, and entitlement reform. The inability to move forward and address the economic issues plaguing the nation have caused a number of foreign policy experts to worry about the future projection of U.S. power abroad.

The Debate

The Los Angeles Times notes "this presidential contest is likely to hinge on major philosophical questions about the size and scope of government, as both sides sort through fallout from the recession." President Obama has been under fire from GOP challengers for economic policies that they say focus too heavily on raising taxes on the wealthy, attempting to manage the economy, and imposing regulations.

Republicans disagree with Obama's economic vision to invest public funds in the development of new job opportunities and, instead, want to leverage the private sector to spur economic growth, as this CFR Issue Tracker points out. Each contender has vowed to repeal two signature pieces of legislation from the Obama presidency: the healthcare and financial reform laws of 2010.

Policy Options

The Hoover Institution's J.W. Verret says 2012 is expected to be "a year of competing visions." (TheGazette) Obama's opponents, he writes, will need to show "America is a business-focused economic engine anxious for government to get out of the way."

Political analyst Greg Sargent says while it's true that disapproval of Obama is running high (WashPost), "the independents and moderates who will decide the presidential election agree with Obama's overall fiscal vision -- his jobs creation proposals and insistence on taxing the wealthy to pay for them."

Background Reading

Six economists offer advice for improving the U.S. economic outlook, in an expert roundup in the New York Times.

At EconoMonitor, Dan Steinbock calls the U.S. presidential contest a "once-in-a-century election," where the U.S.-China economic relationship might be on the line.

Looking ahead to the Iowa caucuses and upcoming primaries in January, CFR's James Lindsay says Republican candidates are taking aim at President Obama's foreign policies, yet it's unclear what they would do differently.

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