There are plenty of reasons that the economy is the most important issue of Election 2012.
Unemployment has remained high for a long time, and even 27 percent of those who have a job are worried about losing it. Only half of homeowners now believe their home is worth more than what they still owe on it. Just 16 percent believe that today's children will be better off than their parents.
These numbers present a real challenge for President Obama. Americans today rate their own financial health just about the same as they did on the day he was inaugurated, but not nearly as well as they did in the fall of 2008. Only 30 percent believe the country is better off than it was four years ago.
The president does benefit from a belief that he inherited a bad economy and that the recession was created by the Bush administration. But most voters also believe that his policies have hurt more than they've helped. Overall, by a 50 percent to 42 percent margin, voters trust Mitt Romney more than the president when it comes to managing the economy.
Still, the president remains very competitive in his bid for re-election. This may be partly due to the fact that there has been some very modest economic growth over the past couple of years. It also may be because Americans aren't feeling all that good about either candidate. If the president is re-elected, just 32 percent of voters nationwide believe the economy will get better, while 37 percent believe it will get worse. If Romney wins in November, 36 percent expect the economy to improve, but 35 percent believe the opposite.
So Romney has a slight edge, but the emphasis is on the word slight. And among the key block of unaffiliated voters who will decide the election, just one in four expects either man to make things better.
Part of the skepticism comes from the fact that 66 percent of voters believe that the best thing the government could do to help the economy is to cut spending. But most voters don't believe spending will be cut no matter who wins in November. Additionally, voters overwhelmingly trust their own economic judgment more than they either Romney's or Obama's.
Yet there is a larger issue at work here. Politicians and their cheerleaders in the political class assume that the role of government is to manage the economy. Most voters don't. In fact, most think it's more important for the government to protect individual rights than to promote economic growth.
Scott Rasmussen is founder and president of Rasmussen Reports. He is a political analyst, author, speaker and, since 1994, an independent public opinion pollster.
Scott founded Rasmussen Reports, LLC in 2003 as a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information. Rasmussen Reports provides in-depth data, news coverage and commentary on political, business, economic and lifestyle topics at RasmussenReports.com, America’s most visited public opinion polling site.