Originally Published: November 1, 2014 6 a.m.
PHOENIX - Back before there were pollsters to tell people how they felt about everything and everyone, the mood of the electorate could be judged by a loaf of bread. When the price was low, things were okay.
I thought about that as I filled my gas tank on the north side of Phoenix and paid $2.79 per gallon. Gas prices are probably the number one indicator of how people feel about the economy - at least at the most basic, close-to-home level. In fact, when gas prices soared as Barack Obama was running for a second term some believed it would swing things in Mitt Romney's favor.
Many folks are clueless about the ways of Wall Street, and most of us can't begin to comprehend the national debt. Yet nowadays we follow gas prices penny by penny, and right now they're remarkably low.
So, it could be said that things are okay in America, in fact pretty good.
You wouldn't know it from the headlines. For instance, there have been a rash of stories about the Ebola virus, frightening many Americans while affecting very few. For a time it seemed White House policy about Ebola had infected the president's popularity.
Yet, according to an ABC News poll, Americans now support Obama's handling of the Ebola situation, 49 percent to 41.
There are stories and photos from half-way around the world showing the brutality of the ISIS and, again, conservatives have been quick to condemn the White House policies. Yet the same ABC News poll shows a majority of Americans now back the president's handling of the latest terrorist threat.
Here in Arizona, GOP ads continue to slam the president's centerpiece achievement, Obamacare. History might someday view the health program as on par with Social Security: a basic ingredient of social service we'd never dream of giving up. But for now, even as it helps millions, it continues to confuse many Americans.
However, an examination by The New York Times concludes that the Affordable Care Act has largely succeeded. The number of Americans without health insurance has already dropped by about 25 percent. And, contrary to Republican rhetoric, Obamacare has created a financial boon across the healthcare industry.
Consumer confidence, as tracked by The Conference Board, is now at a seven-year high. The price of gas is a contributing factor as is job growth, now averaging more than 200,000 new jobs per month. New data show the U.S. economy grew at 3.5 percent in the third quarter.
So why is the president taking it on the chin? Why are Democrats in danger of losing their majority in the senate? Why are local politicians who support the Obama administration running scared?
Some of it relates to the natural swing away from the party that occupies the White House during a mid-term election. Republicans have mounted a coordinated effort to sharpen local campaigns by running nationally-produced TV ads that take on the president directly.
Although the economy is stronger, wages for many in the lower middle class have stagnated for too long. Meanwhile, Obama's core team has lost key players and policy pronouncements from the White House have at times been muddy.
Still, at the bottom line is the fundamental campaign question: Are you better off today than you were six years ago? The honest answer is yes.
Gas is dipping below three dollars, and the president's critics are running on empty.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, "Cautiously Optimistic," is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.