NEW YORK (FNS) -- The state of the economy, still hovering at unprecedented levels, has been playing a supporting role in this year's presidential contest, and most financial wizards point to a rosy financial outlook as the reason why.
Partly because the country has enjoyed its longest economic boom in history, economists and financial analysts -- whether they credit President Clinton or the prowess of American business -- are in general agreement that it does not matter who wins the White House this November, since there are no signs the good times are ending.
"People vote with their pocketbooks," said Ken Goldstein, an economist with The Conference Board. "Economic issues are secondary because people are fat and content, so in a sense, they are pushing the basic bread-and-butter economic issues down."
Barring any act to deliberately derail the economy, economists and financial analysts said they expect it to continue to be healthy, although they expect it to moderate because of higher energy prices, less corporate profit growth and higher interest rates.
Despite reports of a slowdown, many said the issue in this presidential election is not about the economy because business has been so good, but about social issues like health care, education, gun control and the environment. In fact, people are still spending, although that too is moderating (it is expected to drop to about 3% from 5 to 6% last year), but still in line with income growth.
But no matter how the new president -- whether it's Al Gore or George W. Bush -- deals with this slowdown, most economists and analysts said the economic outcome would be the same.
Although their economic platforms are vastly different -- Gore prefers increased government spending with a targeted tax break, while Bush talks about an even larger tax cut -- both offer up blueprints on how to spend the budget surplus to stimulate the economy.
Economists said regardless of which party wins, both go against what the Federal Reserve has been trying to prevent: an economy that is growing too fast.
Richard Berner, chief U.S. economist with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, said one of the most important factors influencing today's economy was the shift from a budget deficit to a surplus. Any depletion of the surplus, he said, will change the economic landscape.
"You will end up with higher interest rates and perhaps a less-efficient economy because there will be fewer resources for investment relative to the size of the economy," Burner said.
Jim Glassman, senior U.S. economist with Chase Securities, said in a year of a rising surplus, people want either to spend it or have tax cuts. Either way, it won't matter which one you choose because the outcome affects the interest rates the same.
"Whoever wins, they are inheriting an incredible economy," he noted. "Their mission is to keep the economy on the same path."
With the dynamics of politics being what they are, both candidates are amplifying their different laundry lists of economic proposals, including debt reduction, tax cuts, spending changes and Social Security reform, that will shape the nation's economy.
Devona Bolliole, Gore's deputy national spokesperson, said Gore plans to build upon the national prosperity and harness the power of the new economy to enrich all families.
Goldstein added that by spending money on education, Gore would improve the performance in lower-performing schools, and increases in medical care would allow fewer people to go broke before they die.
Most Bush supporters agree that by giving money back to people you would allow them to have more choices and more resources, which would drive the economy.
Ray Sullivan, spokesman for Gov. Bush, said under a Bush presidency, a portion of the budget surplus would be returned to workers and families in the form of tax cuts that would help the economy continue to grow and ward off a slowdown or a recession.
"Gov. Bush will improve the economy by using our prosperity to address important issues like education and Social Security and also by cutting taxes, which will return more of the people's money to the people to use as they see fit and not the government," Sullivan said.
He added that prosperity was not created by the government, but by the hard work of the American people, that innovation and productivity are functions of workers, not of government.
"Gov. Bush's plan empowers those families to continue those trends as opposed to Gore, who puts more control into the hands of government," Sullivan added.
Still others said neither Gore nor Bush would have a strong impact on the economy, since the person with the pulse on the economic outlook is Alan Greenspan. They said it's Greenspan who controls the interest rates, which is more important in keeping the economy in check.
Still, many economists do credit Clinton for allowing the Federal Reserve to do its job at keeping inflation down.
"The combination of a surplus and the Fed benefited the economy by freeing up resources for the investment, which led to the boom we enjoyed over the past seven years," Berner said.
Some said the real driving force behind today's economy is the technological innovation and the wave of investment -- and neither Bush nor Gore will do anything to stop that.
The only thing everybody agreed upon is that nobody predicted the economic boom during the Clinton presidency, and nobody really knows what will happen under the next president.