Four years after the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy still is anemic with only vague signs of improvement. Unemployment was 8.3 percent in July. In most campaigns, that would bode ill for the incumbent but Romney is spouting policies akin to those that led to the recession.
And the middle class has been hit the hardest, not only seeing jobs vanish but retirement savings and home values as well.
Both campaigns have been hitting economic themes. Obama has been urging action from recalcitrant Republicans in Congress; Romney another round of tax cuts, despite the budget deficit and mounting national debt, and spending cuts that would gut social programs.
With the Republican National Convention getting under way this week -- delayed a day by Tropical Storm Isaac -- and Democrats set to have their conclave the following week, the National Journal/Heartland Monitor Poll, which has interviewed 15,000 people since 2009, finds Americans are very anxious about the economy.
"Most Americans have lost trust in elected leaders, corporate leaders and large institutions," said Bill Vainisi, senior vice president for government relations for Allstate, which commissioned the poll.
Jeremy Ruch, vice president of FTI Strategic Communications, which conducted the poll, said this "erosion of trust" can be dealt with if people see Republicans and Democrats working together in Congress and see government working with private industry to come up with solutions.
FTI has been conducting the poll quarterly. The one to be released later this week, which queried 1,000 to 2,000 people, is the 13th and has a margin of error 2.8 to 3.1 percentage points.
The poll indicates Americans think the country is on the wrong track by a 2-1 margin and 56 percent rank their personal financial situation as fair to poor.
The major worries: paying for healthcare, losing a job and education costs.
"A lot depends on age," Vainisi said. "They're looking at government and the private sector to solve these problems. They want them to come together to deal with deficit spending and revenue. These are the things Americans want. We expect them [lawmakers and corporate leaders] to come to agreement."
Thirty-eight percent of those queried said they have had to cut back on saving and investing for the future and 22 percent said they have been encouraged to save and invest by cutting spending. Half of Americans say college is an economic burden -- too expensive and requiring too much debt.
"One nuance: Americans don't think of the American Dream as a birthright anymore," Vainisi said in a telephone interview.
Still, the country is optimistic about the future with 62 percent saying they expect the economy to improve in the next year and 44 percent saying they have had more opportunities than their parents.
Americans also are confident of their ability to get ahead, with 60 percent saying their financial well-being is determined through hard work and savvy investing, not events out of their control. Sixty percent also say they are living the American Dream and 73 percent saying home ownership will help achieve that dream.