In the classic political-science take on election forecasting, objective (or in some cases, subjective) assessments of the economy are a big and sometimes definitive factor.
When it comes to subjective assessments, however, it’s no great mystery that perceptions of economic trends are affected by partisan identification. In the new ABC/WaPo survey that’s getting so much attention today, when asked if the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying the same, whites were distinctly more negative than non-whites and even more negative than the demographic category arguably hit hardest by the Great Recession and the “recovery,” Hispanics. Looking at the electorate another way, nearly half of self-identified Democrats said the economy is “getting better,” while exactly half of Republicans said it was “getting worse.” A bit less predictably (but only a bit, given the recent R-leaning character of indies), economic pessimism among self-identified independents is nearly as strong as among Republicans.
You have to wonder if partisan polarization is now so strong that absent really large and unmistakable economic trends in one direction or another, the economy will become a declining influence on voting behavior since it is perceived through the prism of party. A complicating factor this year is that Democrats appear to be “winning” in terms of identifying specific economic issues on which they have an advantage, while Republicans persist in making the election “about” Obamacare. It will be most interesting to see as we get closer to November if the economy–whether because of “objective” improvements or because they do a better job of appearing responsive to economic concerns–begins to work in favor of Democrats, or instead the whole issue becomes secondary to partisan attachments.