The political party that wins the argument over the best path to economic prosperity will triumph in 2016, pollsters say.

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A George Washington University Battleground Poll found Americans split on the role of government

Bipartisan pollsters found Democrats didn't make a convincing argument for government

Whoever wins on the economy will win the White House in 2016, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said

Washington CNN —  

Americans’ pessimism about the nation’s economic conditions, and skepticism that government can help solve that problem, delivered Democrats their midterm beating this cycle, a team of bipartisan pollsters found in a midterm postmortem survey.

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and Republican pollster Ed Goeas said those were the main takeaways from their final George Washington University Battleground Poll of the cycle, conducted Dec. 7-11 among 1,000 registered voters nationwide. And they said the survey has grave implications for the Democratic Party if they can’t craft a cohesive, convincing message on the economy.

“Tell me who is ahead on the economy in 2016 and I’ll tell you who is going to be president,” Lake said at a Christian Science Monitor event on Thursday.

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She noted that “voters’ economic anxiety is deep-seated, and shows no signs of abating.”

The poll found that a vast majority of Americans, 77 percent, said they’re at least somewhat worried about the nation’s current economic conditions. And voters in the middle class are the most pessimistic about the economy, the pollsters found.

That points to why, Lake and Goeas said, Democrats had so much trouble this cycle and ultimately lost control of the Senate to Republicans and gave the GOP their biggest majority in the House since the 1920s.

Democrats aimed their midterm message at middle class voters, highlighting policies like a minimum wage hike and fair pay legislation that they said polled well with the middle class.

But that strategy was too “piecemeal,” Lake wrote in her analysis of the poll, and “struck voters as falling well short of the level of change necessary to set our country and our economy back on track.”

And Democrats had trouble selling the public government solutions for their problems because, the poll found, American voters are still split on whether government can solve them to begin with.

“Voters want government to intervene, but they fear what the government will do if it wades into the important task of ensuring the economic stability of voters,” Goeas said.

A slight majority, 52 percent, said the government should do more to solve problems and help meet the needs of people, while 48 percent said it should get out of the way and let the free market help people get ahead.

Many in the party have diagnosed that very issue as one of the main reasons the party fared so poorly in the midterms.