WASHINGTON—Pollster Stanley Greenberg confirmed Barack Obama’s sweeping election mandate to create jobs in a Democracy Corps poll that he released Nov. 18 at a conference at the Library of Congress sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, a Washington-based center for progressive action. The poll found that “Reducing unemployment and getting the economy moving” was named by a whopping 62 percent of 2,000 respondents as either their first or second top economic concern, the poll found.
Voters, Greenberg told the conference, “are viewing the economy through the financial crisis and what has happened to incomes and jobs over a longer period, and they are looking for a new direction, maybe new values that lead to more responsible behavior.”
Their most serious economic concerns are “too much debt, too little savings” and “housing foreclosures” as well as “people at risk of losing their good jobs with health care benefits and fearing the new one will leave them on their own” and “jobs and production being outsourced and nothing made in America” and again, “people’s pensions losing value.”
Speakers at the conference titled “Real Investments in America” were unanimous in calling for a massive, “green” public works jobs program to rebuild the nation’s bridges, highways, schools, and levees. The danger, they warned, was not that such a program would be “too expensive” but rather that the plan would be too small and timid to pull the economy out of the crisis.
The federal government could fund $450 billion “without breaking a sweat” said economist James Galbraith and “$900 billion would be six percent of next year’s GDP (gross domestic product, considerably less than the program just announced by the government of China.)
Ed Schwartz of the Philadelphia-based Institute for the Study of Civic Values said Philadelphia and seven other of the 10 largest cities are all on the brink of bankruptcy. The mayor has just announced a budget that will close libraries, slash school funding, and force mass layoffs “wreaking havoc” on the city. He pointed out that the landslide votes for Obama in the metropolitan centers was key to his victory. “Cities ought to be back in fashion but I’m not hearing much in Washington that holds out much hope for these cities,” he said to strong applause.
Greenberg stressed that on virtually every issue of the liberal-conservative debate, “voters have moved to a new place. They show a new openness for the country to use government for a range of public purposes: restoring taxes on the wealthiest and corporations to bring sustained relief for the middle class and regulate corporate excess to protect the public.”
He adds, “Do not lose sight of the fact that ending the war in Iraq was the single biggest reason to vote for Obama mentioned by 35 percent….Obama took a sustained lead in the race when the financial crisis hit and gave him an advantage over McCain on handling the economy, which grew through the debates and the final ‘Joe the Plumber’ phase when McCain attacked Obama for his redistributionist and socialist tendencies. Obama ended up with a 13-point advantage on handling the economy.” (CAF co-director Robert Borosage drew laughter when he told the crowd that McCain made “socialism” an issue in the election “and socialism won.”).
President-elect Obama is responding to the concerns expressed at that conference and elsewhere. He called for a federal program to create 2.5 million jobs rebuilding schools, bridges, water mains and other infrastructure between now and 2011 at an estimated cost of $175 billion. At a press conference in Chicago to announce his team of economic advisers, Obama repeated his call for a federal jobs program big enough to “jolt” the economy back toward growth. It has emerged as the highest priority on Obama’s agenda after he is sworn in Jan. 20.
Greenberg did not compare Obama’s victory to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 election and landslide 1936 reelection that politically realigned the nation for a generation. But if Obama and the Congressional leadership understand the mandate and act to deliver jobs, peace, and other vital needs, Greenberg said, “It will produce an enduring new political balance in the country.”