It’s the economy, stupid!

The oft repeated quote of political strategist James Carville reminds us that the first Clinton presidential campaign was decided on the issues – in that year, it was the economy.
So why haven’t we been reading more about the issues?

At this stage in the campaign, it’s understandable that the horse race of who’s ahead among the candidates fills the headlines.

Still, I thought one of the reasons NJ moved its presidential primary to early February was so voters could have more of a role in the selection process and force the candidates to debate the issues.

Remember the rhetoric when the new primary date law was enacted: “New Jersey is now a prime time player…”, the “needs of voters” will no longer take “a backseat to our wallets..” and New Jersey voters will now move to “the front of the class…”

Yet when substantive forums are held debating the issues, the coverage barely scratches the surface.

Take last week’s forum on “Women’s Issues in the 2008 Presidential Campaign” sponsored by Rutgers Center for Women and Work, Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics and the Hall Institute of Public Policy – NJ.
Without any coordinated effort, the participants all focused on one key issue of salience to NJ women voters. The economy.

But who knows that?

Only New Jersey Network was there — are they now the leaders in political news coverage?

I know, if it bleeds, it leads…but what about the remaining 17 minutes of broadcast coverage and the hundreds of inked pages published last week.

So here are some things for future assignment editors to think about when they're deciding what gets covered:

  • The gender gap in electoral politics is alive and well in New Jersey. In last year's US Senate race, an 8 point advantage accrued to Bob Menendez (NJ General Exit Poll sponsored by ABC, AP, CBS, CNN, FOX News, and NBC News).
  • What matters to NJ women voters will have a decided effect in the presidential election process next February. According to CAWP, “there has been a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980” — nationally it averages about 10 percentage points.
  • The economy also ranked among the top three issues of concern when voters were asked what issue will be most important to you in deciding who you would like to see elected President next year (Star Ledger / Rutgers – Eagleton Poll, 8/07).
  • Eighty-five percent of voters told exit poll interviewers, the economy was very or extremely important in their vote for US Senator last fall – more than the war in Iraq (74%), more than terrorism (70%) and more than corruption and scandal (75%).
Let’s get back to covering the real issues.

Note: For those who missed the forum and care about the issues, the websites of the sponsoring organizations all offer comprehensive issue coverage: http://www.cww.rutgers.edu/, http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/, and http://www.hallnj.org/ .
It’s the economy, stupid!