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The Pessimistic Purple: Why Are Voters in Swing States the Most Discontented?

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Analysis of Rasmussen polling finds purple state residents have the most dire outlook about their financial situation and the war on terrorism; red state residents are the most optimistic

Despite all the national attention brought to the issue of health care through the recent political skirmishes in Washington, D.C., the economy and jobs remain the biggest domestic concern for the American people today. And with wars continuing on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror continues to be a top-tier foreign policy concern.

As our country tackles these serious domestic and foreign policy problems, which Americans are most optimistic about issues related to the economy and the security of the United States? Which are the most pessimistic?

A Smart Politics analysis of more than two-dozen polls conducted by Rasmussen during a three-week span in February finds that likely voters in purple states are feeling the most bleak and discontented on issues related to both their finances and the security of their country, while residents of red states are the most optimistic.

Rasmussen conducted polls of 500 likely voters in 27 states between February 1st and February 23rd and asked voters in each state an array of questions dealing with their own personal finances as well as the war on terror.

The states that were polled include 11 blue states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin), 9 purple states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia), and 7 red states (Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas).

(While there is some gray area as to what constitutes the current partisan tilt of a state (Arkansas and Louisiana stand out here as perhaps more red than purple), red states are defined as having an average margin of victory over the past five presidential election cycles of more than five points for the Republicans, with blue states more than five points for the Democrats, and purple states as having less than a five point tilt in either direction).

To be sure, economic concerns are still high on the minds of Americans as the economy slowly tries to regain the millions of jobs shed during the last few years. An open-ended mid-February CBS/New York Times poll found four times as many Americans cited the economy and jobs as their top concern (52 percent) as health care (13 percent).

With the economy still far from recovery, and unemployment still flirting with 10 percent, many Americans have deep concerns about their personal finances, with residents of purple states the most pessimistic.

Residents of purple states were less likely to rate their own personal finances as 'excellent' or 'good' (39.7 percent) than those in the blue states (42.5 percent) or red states (44.4 percent) polled by Rasmussen.

Residents in purple states were also the most likely to rate their finances as just 'fair' or 'poor' (56.1 percent), followed by blue states (53.8 percent) and red states (51.1 percent).

Likely voters in the red state of Texas by far rated their own finances as the most positive, with 55 percent viewing them as excellent or good. The red states of Georgia (#2, 48 percent) and North Dakota (#4, 47 percent) were two of the other three states in which the percentage of likely voters viewing their finances as excellent or good was equal to or greater than those viewing it as fair or poor.

The three states least optimistic about their personal finances of the 27 surveyed were all purple: only 36 percent of likely voters in Florida, 34 percent in Missouri, and 33 percent in Arkansas viewed their personal finances in excellent or good shape.

Ramussen also asked likely voters in these 27 states how their personal finances are trending - whether they are getting better or worse.

Once again, residents of purple states were the most glum about where their finances are headed - with 47 percent stating their finances were getting worse - slightly more than likely voters in blue states (46 percent).

Red state voters were the least dour about how their finances were trending (with 42 percent stating 'worse').

Residents in purple states also shared the most gloomy collective outlook on the issues of terrorism and the safety of Americans.

When asked "Who is winning the war on terrorism, the United States and its allies or the terrorists," nearly 1 in 4 residents of purple states believed the terrorists were winning (24 percent). This was notably higher than the percentage of residents in both the more liberal blue states (20 percent) and the more conservative red states (16 percent).

Purple states comprised four of the top five slots of those states in which more than a quarter of its likely voters believed the terrorists were winning the war: Missouri (28 percent), Louisiana (28 percent), Nevada (26 percent), and Arkansas (26 percent). Thirty percent of Pennsylvanians also shared this view, which was highest among the 27 states surveyed.

Six red states, led by Georgia at 10 percent (plus North Carolina, Texas, North Dakota, Indiana, and South Dakota) and five blue states (Wisconsin, Delaware, Washington, Iowa, and Maryland), comprised the bottom 11 slots for those which believe the terrorists are winning the war.

By contrast, just 46 percent of likely voters in purple states believe the United States is winning the war on terrorism, compared to 48 percent of likely voters in blue states, and 52 percent of those in red states.

Of the 10 states in which more than 50 percent of its likely voters believe the United States and its allies are winning the war on terrorism, only one is purple (#6, Florida, at 52 percent).

The most optimistic states about the state of the war on terror were the red states of Georgia (59 percent), Texas (57 percent), North Carolina (57 percent), and South Dakota (52 percent), and the blue states of Delaware (55 percent), Iowa (53 percent), Michigan (51 percent), Maryland (51 percent), and Wisconsin (51 percent).

Rasmussen also asked likely voters in these 27 states whether the United States was safer today than it was before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Once again, residents in purple states have the most pessimistic view of the security of their country, with 42 percent of likely voters in the nine states surveyed replying the U.S. is not safer today. Residents of blue states (37 percent) and red states (37 percent) are less negative, with pluralities of each believing the U.S. is safer today.

Residents of the purple states of Nevada (49 percent 'less safe'), Missouri (46 percent), and Arkansas (44 percent) had the most gloomy outlooks on this dimension of assessing the security of the nation's homeland.

As to why residents of purple states are more pessimistic these days than their fellow Americans in blue and red states is unclear.

Blue states, of course, tend to be more liberal (all 11 of which in this sample voted for Barack Obama in 2008), and are perhaps therefore more hopeful (and patient) that the direction of the country, President Obama's policies, and their own personal situation will change for the better soon.

Residents of red states, meanwhile, are perhaps less disappointed because they were less optimistic about the new administration and the changes that were promised in the first instance (as just 2 of the 7 red states under analysis voted for Obama).

As such, perhaps residents of many of these purple states feel particularly disappointed about the perceived lack of positive change brought about by the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress during the past year.

Unlike red states, most purple states voted for change in 2008 (six of the nine purple states in this analysis voted for Obama). However, because swing states are less consistently partisan as a collective, its residents are therefore perhaps less patient and more quick to harbor resentment and pessimism than those in blue states when change does not come about in the face of continued serious economic and foreign policy concerns.

And how might this discontent in purple states be expressed at the ballot box this November?

Three Democratic U.S. Senate incumbents from the purple states tracked in this analysis by Rasmussen are in serious jeopardy of losing their seats in 2010: Michael Bennet of Colorado, Harry Reid of Nevada, and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.

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