The Coast economy is at a crossroads, where will it go?
“It’s the economy stupid,” of course, was the mantra of the Clinton presidential campaign in 1992 challenging incumbent George H.W. Bush.
In other words, the economy was bad and the campaign should focus its efforts and resources on reminding voters of that.
It worked for Clinton.
A scientifically conducted online poll by NBC News/SurveyMonkey in collaboration with Mississippi Today, released on Friday, finds that 61 percent of Mississippians believe the state economy is very good (8 percent) or fairly good (53 percent) compared to 38 percent who believe it is fairly bad (25 percent) or very bad (13 percent).
When the same pollsters asked the identical question in September, 50 percent said the economy was good or fairly good compared to 49 percent who said it was bad or very bad.
It is one poll, and it is a mistake to place too much emphasis on the results of one poll, but it could at least be argued those poll results are good news for incumbent Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who is the Republican front-runner in this year’s governor’s election.
“Our economy is roaring,” Reeves said recently on social media.
Reeves essentially is running for governor as the incumbent with the blessings and endorsement of outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant. All things being equal, a good economy is good news for the incumbent.
By the same logic, those numbers could be bad news for Attorney General Jim Hood, who is the favorite on the Democratic side, and for Reeves’ two Republican opponents in the Aug. 6 primary — former Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster.
The coming weeks and months will determine whether that logic is correct.
Waller and Foster, as well as Hood, have been lambasting the poor condition of the Mississippi economy and offering remedies. Those remedies have ranged from infrastructure improvements to Medicaid expansion, disguised as Medicaid reform by Waller and Foster.
“The future of Mississippi’s economy starts with having an educated workforce,” Waller says in his latest television ad. “That means supporting our teachers with higher salaries — and not just in election years.”
In addition, Hood is touting universal pre-K as well as Medicaid expansion, teacher salary increases and infrastructure improvements.
If most Mississippians believe the economy is OK, they might not support some of those remedies.
Yet, despite Mississippians being OK with the economy, according to the poll, and Reeves having a ridiculous campaign cash advantage over his opponents, there is still the perception he is in a close race — could lose.
Of course, the poll begs the question of what do respondents mean when they say they are pleased with the state’s economic condition. After all, by almost any economic indicator, Mississippi is near the bottom.
The exact question asked to poll respondents was “How would you rate the condition of the Mississippi economy these days?” Were they saying they were pleased being near last or did they not know the state was near the bottom and would be upset if they knew or were they saying the economy was OK by Mississippi standard?
A separate poll conducted quarterly by Millsaps College and Jackson-based Chism Strategies asks a similar question — “Do you believe Mississippi is headed in the right direction or the wrong direction?” In July the results were 41 percent right direction to 40 percent wrong direction. The average on the question on eight polls going back to September 2017 is 39 percent right direction to 36 percent wrong direction.
Perhaps, there are instances when the election is about more than the economy, such as the popularity or unpopularity of the candidates.
There is a perception, based on some past polling by Millsaps and Chism, that indicates Hood’s favorability rating is significantly higher than Reeves.
Reeves has actually bragged in the past about upsetting some people because he said he is willing to do what other politicians would not do – tell people no, especially when they were asking for the expenditure of state funds.
Regardless of likeability, the NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Friday showed both Reeves and Waller comfortably leading the Democrat Hood.
Based on the poll, Hood must deal not only with an improving economy favoring Reeves, but with the fact that in Mississippi the default vote for many is the Republican candidate.
The poll indicates Hood faces two difficult challenges — to convince a majority of voters he could improve an economy they already think is pretty good and to convince them they don’t always have to vote Republican.
“I think the state is ready for change,” Hood said recently. “I hope I will be part of it.”
This column was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.