Do Americans' concerns match up with Paul Ryan's?

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a homecoming campaign rally at the Waukesha County Expo Center on August 12, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisc. Ryan is the GOP's momentum changer -- or so they hope. But is he in tune with what Americans are concerned about in this election?

Kai Ryssdal: Nothing like a potentially momentum-changing development in a presidential election to make you want to talk to your friendly neighborhood public opinion expert, huh?

Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief at Gallup. Paul Ryan is the GOP's momentum changer, or so they hope. Frank's here for our regular Attitude Check, what Americans really think about things. Hey Frank, good to talk with you again.

Frank Newport: My pleasure.

Ryssdal: So this is the debate now, right, with the Ryan selection: What is the proper role of government in this society -- big or small? What do you know about how people feel about that?

Newport: Boy, is that an interesting question, and as you say, probably one of the most significant issues in this whole election. We do know, when we just asked basically: Should government do more, or is it doing too much, this should be left to businesses and individuals? That's the way we phrased it. We now have a new high in those saying government's doing too much: 61 percent. And in general, government has a terrible image -- 10 percent job approval for Congress this week, that's the lowest tied for the lowest in history, a new number. So when you say government, people think 'bad,' negatively. However, when you get into a lot of the specifics, all of a sudden people pull back and say, 'Wait a minute, I don't want government to cut back on that or this,' and that's the dilemma that all these politicians face.

Ryssdal: In your measurements, though, of how people feel about government and what it does, do people pay more attention to budget policy, which is what Congressman Ryan is known for? Or things like the unemployment rate and gross domestic product and economic growth?

Newport: Well, you know, that's an interesting economic question, and I'm not sure any pollster has really specific data on exactly which economic indicator Americans pay attention to. But we do know that Americans are more concerned about straightforward things like jobs and the economy and employment, and there are the more ambiguous but very long-term important issues like the deficit. So when you put those two together -- although people say the deficit is very important -- in the short-term, they say if you've got to prioritize, it's right now jobs, fix this economy in the short-term, not the long-term.

Ryssdal: Is there time, in your vast experience, for the polls to turn around much, given how slowly the American economy changes?

Newport: That's an excellent question; it's actually two parts. A lot of economists and political scientists say that the impact of the economy is pretty well set by this point, no matter what we see, say in the August or September jobs numbers. However, when you simply look at the poll numbers -- 'Who are you going to vote for?' -- absolutely. We have seen very significant change that occurs going through the conventions, which are up and coming beginning August 27, and then into September, then into the debates. Things can change, they can turn around, sometimes dramatically from where they are now. So I think anything is possible.

Ryssdal: For all the sound and fury though, Frank, about this election for the past, what, 96 hours about Congressman Ryan, how much does the V.P. pick actually change things?

Newport: History shows not a lot. Of course, sometimes it's confusing because in '08, for example, McCain picked Palin just three days before they went into the convention, and usually candidates do get a convention bounce. So Romney's choice of Ryan here a couple of weeks before the convention is fairly unusual, and we may see a short-term bounce -- a minor bounce. But I think the big thing to watch for is the impact of the back-to-back conventions, which begin at the end of this month.

Ryssdal: Right. Frank Newport, he's the editor-in-chief at Gallup. The segment we do with them every week is called Attitude Check. Frank, thanks a lot, we'll talk to you soon.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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