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updated 10/13/2006 5:12:47 PM ET 2006-10-13T21:12:47

Scandals -- and even wars -- come and go, but one constant in elections is the economy.

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As the House page scandal burns and public unhappiness over Iraq remains near its high, people still rate the economy as their top issue in the midterm elections, according to this week's ABC News/Washington Post poll.

On a long list of issues, including Iraq and "ethics/corruption," 23 percent cited the economy as their top concern, up from 17 percent in May. This may be good news for Republicans, who have been trumpeting a succession of positive economic reports as the main antidote to scandal and war. The Dow Jones industrial average finally surpassed its 2000 peak, gas prices have declined since August, and a surge in revenue has cut the deficit far below expectations.

Democrats are just as confident that slow job creation and lagging wages will spur Americans to vote for change. The economy began rebounding in early 2001, but it has been one of the slowest recoveries on record in terms of new jobs and has been the worst time for wage earners since another Bush was president.

To judge Republicans' stewardship of the economy, National Journal used three approaches. First, we sorted competing claims by each side, focusing on why the public appears to feel more anxious about the economy than indicators such as the unemployment rate would seem to warrant. The answer may lie in how wages for most workers are not keeping up with inflation.

Next, we enlisted a group of distinguished economists who stay above the fray to grade Republicans on their performance. They awarded a lot of Cs.

Finally, we crunched the numbers to determine how the fruits of economic growth -- income -- have been distributed under George W. Bush, and to compare his record with those of past presidents. Is it any surprise that owners have done better than workers?

Copyright 2012 by National Journal Group Inc.

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