American public opinion polls show economic issues, questions of
governance and immigration reform as top domestic concerns as Americans
prepare to vote in congressional and local elections November 7. Matters
close to home are never far from voters' minds, but, this year, domestic
issues appear to be taking a back seat to international affairs.
It has long been said that Americans "vote their pocketbooks," meaning they tend to
choose candidates they feel will promote and protect their economic
well-being. But 2006 could be an exception, according to analyst Karlyn
Bowman at the American Enterprise Institute.
"It is Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, I think, with everything else a pretty distant
second place," she said.
Yet foreign affairs often touch upon domestic matters. For example,
international trade pacts inevitably provoke concerns about local economic
disruptions. The war in Iraq is no different, according to George
Washington University public affairs professor Stephen
"Things like war cost money. Money comes out of your
pocketbook. So you can never think of international events, when they
involve war, as being entirely international affairs," he said.
Polls show a majority of Americans favoring opposition Democrats for
control of Congress. But President Bush has pointed to strong economic
numbers in making the case for continued Republican legislative
"Vote Republican. We have the best plan to protect you," Mr. Bush said
on ABC's This Week program. "And we will keep your taxes low to keep this
economy growing. People are working. The unemployment rate is 4.6 percent.
This economy is strong."
But New York Democratic Senator Charles
Schumer says the American public is dissatisfied with Republican
"People want change. People are not happy with the direction America is
going. They are unhappy abroad with Iraq. They are unhappy at home because
the middle class is squeezed [economically]," he said on CBS' Face the
American political commentator Stu Rothenberg says Americans are somber
about the economy despite several years of expansion.
is a mixed picture," he noted. "The big numbers in terms of unemployment,
economic growth - there are some indicators that people should be happy
[with the economy]. But they are not. They do not think the economy is
performing all that well."
Rothenberg says broad public apprehension about the situation in Iraq
is casting gloom over everything else, including economic performance.
Nevertheless, he notes that falling gasoline prices in the United States
can only help the governing party.
Republicans have controlled the White House since 2001 and both houses
of Congress for 10 of the last 12 years. With one-party control of
government, Republicans are likely to be credited for successes - and
blamed for failures. George Washionton University political scientist
Stephen Wayne says, when it comes to matters of governance, Republicans
are on the defensive.
"The mood of the country is sour," he said.
"Less than 30 percent of the people approve of the job that Congress is
doing. The president is disapproved by more people than he is approved.
Trust in government is at an all-time low."
Wayne says President Bush and Republicans, in general, have been hurt
by public perceptions that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in
2005 was slow and poorly managed. And, while both parties have had
embarrassments to contend with, the recent resignation of a Republican
congressman who sent sexually-explicit messages to teenage legislative
assistants put an unwelcome spotlight on Republican governance and
President Bush addressed the subject at a recent
"It is important for there to be trust in the halls of Congress and in
the White House and throughout government. People have got to trust
elected leaders in order for democracy to work," he said.
Political scientist Stephen Wayne says moral failings are especially
damaging politically for Republicans, whose constituency includes large
numbers of conservative Christians espousing so-called "family values."
"It is not likely that they [religious voters] will come out and vote
Democratic. But it is likely that they might not come out and vote," he
said. "And, if a significant segment of the Christian Coalition decides to
stay home in this election, that will really hurt the Republicans.
Unlike in previous elections, there has been only modest national
debate over divisive social issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem
cell research. What has emerged as an explosive issue in many parts of the
country is immigration reform and, in particular, what should become of 12
million illegal aliens living in the United States.
A political advertisement from a North Carolina congressional race
reveals the rancor spawned by the immigration debate.
"Millions of Americans have lost their jobs to people who are not even
supposed to be here. These illegal
aliens pay no taxes but take our jobs and our government
hand-outs, then spit in our face," the advertisement states.
President Bush and others say immigrants have strengthened the United
States and mass deportation of illegal aliens would be neither practical
nor desirable. Mr. Bush has proposed comprehensive immigration reform that
would include providing a path for law abiding illegal aliens to gain
legal status. So far, however, Congress has only approved the construction
of an 1,100-kilometer fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.