Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

November 5, 2009 12:00 PM

State of the Nation

Crossing the 10% threshold, unemployment for the month of October reached 10.2%. This is the highest level of unemployment since April 1983. 190,000 jobs were cut during the month.

Unemployment may have actually reached 20%, when taking into account people who have stopped looking for jobs and those who are underemployed as a result of significant cuts in their total compensation.

The October NBC/WSJ survey paints a portrait of how Americans feel early in the 4th quarter of 2009.

52% - country off on the wrong track

63% - the level of unemployment has not hit bottom

58% - there is still a ways to go before the economy hits bottom

49% - very dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy today. Additional

31% - are somewhat dissatisfied.

22% - think economy will get worse (33% think it will stay the same)

62% - the President and Congress should think more about keeping budget deficit down even if it takes longer for economy to recover

48% - government doing too many things

36% - government has not done enough to help improve economy (30% say it has done enough)

65% - trust the government only some of the time

46% - at least mildly favor building a new independent political party (this is roughly the same % of folks who had this view in April 2006. 53% expressed this view in July 2007)

Here is the track of opinion as to whether the country is headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track.

February 41/44% 23/68% 31/67%
April 43/43% 39/53% 50/48%
June 42/46% 44/50% 47/50%
July 39/49% 42/49% xxxx
August xxxx xxxx 44/55%
September 39/48% 41/53% xxxx
October 35/52% xxxx 44/54%

In the year since President Obama was elected there has been a change in intensity as to which of several identified issues should be the top priority for the President. The economy is still #1; healthcare and the Federal budget deficit have gone from single to double digits.

11/08 10/09
Economy 64% 41%
Iran and Afghanistan 11% 18%
Health care 5% 17%
Federal budget deficit 7% 14%
Energy 6% 2%

Democrats and Republicans agree on the importance of the economy, and they are in close agreement on Iran and Afghaniston. Beyond that there is little agreement between partisans. Democrats (30%) find healthcare more important than Republicans (10%); Republicans (23%) are more concerned with the deficit than Democrats (5%). [Gallup]

There is increasing consternation about the amount of money being spent on Federal elections. It is estimated that $5.9 billion was spent in 2007-08. Certainly that is a lot of money. But is it really that much money, given the importance of these elections, and the amount of money that is spent on other things?

In the same 2007-08 period, Americans spent $10.8 billion on decorations, costumes and candy for Halloween.

[Tony Corrado, Colby College; National Retail Federation]

As to relations between blacks and whites, the assessment by Americans today is about what it was in 1963. The highest level of optimism came in 2008, immediately following the election of Barack Obama. The height of pessimism came in 1996, following the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. [Gallup]

Will always be
a problem
Solution will be
worked out
2009 40% 56%
2008 30% 67% (post-election)
2001 47% 47%
1996 68% 29%
1993 53% 44%
1963 42% 55%

On October 6th, by a margin of 48% to 45%, we favored sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. On September 23rd, we opposed additional troops by 50% to 41%. [Gallup]

Federal lobbyists seem to come and go. By mid-year 2007, there were 13,428 registered lobbyists. As of the end of the 3rd quarter 2009 there were 11,014 registered lobbyists, an 18% decline. While the number of registrations has always varied between reporting periods, this is the most dramatic drop since 2000. [Center for Responsive Politics; OMB Watch]

Conventional wisdom seems to be that a large part of this change is driven by the Obama Administration's stated antipathy for lobbyists. The open-ended question is whether those who have "de-registered" are still in the business or hewing carefully to a strict interpretation of the law, rather than responding to the spirit of the law.

There is one other period during this decade in which there were a large number of "de-registrations." Registrations dropped from 11,604 to 9,721 between the middle and end of 2000. The reason for that 16% drop is not obvious. It may have to do with heat being applied to some outliers who were pushing the limits of the law. Again, folks who had registered out of an abundance of caution deregistered.

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