When people are looking for someone to blame or arguing over who is really at fault, it is one of the surest signs of economic decline. It is worrisome, then, that an us-against-them approach to economic matters was the defining theme of the Republican convention. It is a theme that was reinforced in video released this week in which Mitt Romney tried to define the U.S. economy in terms of a class of freeloaders, which he said consisted of the “47 percent” of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes. The “freeloader” theory was hinted at repeatedly and sometimes aggressively, but was not so emphatically stated, in the convention itself. According to the freeloader theory, somewhere there are huge numbers of people who aren’t interested in doing their part, and that is why the United States is in a state of seemingly perpetual decline.
We would know the U.S. economy was in trouble if this idea, absent any facts to support it, was catching on with voters at large. That would mean people in general see the country as being in decline. On this question, recent polls have good and bad news. The bad news is that the us-against-them theme put forth by the Republican party is finding significant support among poor white southern Republican voters. The good news is that the us-against-them theme is not resonating well at all with any other groups of voters.
This is an indication that the U.S. economy as a whole is not faring so badly, in spite of the many obstacles. People are still hopeful and still trying to solve problems. Yet it would seem that there are pockets of despair, where people have largely given up looking for solutions. That is something that bears watching, as it could turn into a real problem for the national economy over the next couple of years if these groups and communities continue to feel excluded.