Nearly all WV voters are worried about the economy

Hoppy’s Commentary

Typically, when pollsters ask voters their most important issue in the next election the answers will vary. Yes, the economy is almost always at the top, but voters have myriad issues—the terror threat, the environment, health care, education, roads, social issues.

But there is no doubt that the economy is top of mind for nearly every voter in West Virginia this year.

The latest edition of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll found that 88 percent of those questioned are very worried (57%) or somewhat worried (31%) about the “direction of the nation’s economy over the next few years.”

Voter anxiety is even greater when the question is directed specifically to the state’s economy. A whopping 94 percent of voters are very worried (62%) or somewhat worried (32%) about the “direction of West Virginia’s economy over the next few years.”

Compare those numbers with exit polling from the 2004 General Election (Bush vs. Kerry). When West Virginia voters were asked what mattered most in deciding how they voted for President, 25 percent said moral issues, while 21 percent said the economy and jobs, 19 percent said terrorism, and 17 percent said the war in Iraq.

But that was before the housing crisis, the plummet in energy prices and the precipitous decline of the coal industry. All other concerns seem to drift to the back when people are worried about keeping their job or finding a new one.

Dr. John Deskins, Director of the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research, reports that “Central Appalachian coal production has fallen by 51 percent since 2010.” The coal nose dive has been so ruinous that Deskins classifies Boone, Clay, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties as being in “a Great Depression.”

The imagery is chilling, especially when considering that coal’s decline has tentacles that reach into every other part of the economy. For example, Deskins says in Boone County “statistics are beginning to show other job losses in the county as less money is flowing to other businesses—grocery stores, entertainment venues, etc.”

Just yesterday, the state Department of Revenue released figures for August showing tax collections fell $16.3 million short of estimates as severance, personal income and consumer sales tax collections continued to lag. Next fiscal year’s state budget is already $300 million short.

The economy is a driving factor in every election. Remember James Carville’s repeated admonition to the staff (and himself) during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign against George H.W. Bush? “It’s the economy, stupid.”

That applies in spades for this election in West Virginia.