October 8, 2009

Mixed Views of Economic Policies and Health Care Reform Persist

Section 4: Economic Perceptions

Americans continue to rate national economic conditions and their own personal financial situation quite negatively, but many still say they expect things to improve in the next year. Jobs remain at the top of people’s economic concerns and are largely seen as difficult to find. In the midst of these rather bleak ratings, much of the public says that Obama’s economic policies have not had an effect so far, and there is somewhat less optimism than in July that his policies will improve the economy and reduce the deficit in the long term.

A plurality of Americans (46%) say that Obama’s policies have not had an effect on economic conditions so far or that is too early to tell. But a slightly larger proportion now says that his policies have made things better than did so in July (31% vs. 24%). One-in-five say that his policies have made things worse, virtually unchanged from a few months ago.

A majority of independents (51%) say Obama’s policies have had no effect so far or it is too early to tell, but more now say his policies have made the economy better than worse (30% vs. 20%). In July, 21% said his policies had made things better while 27% said they had made things worse.

Half of Democrats say Obama’s policies have made economic conditions better, up slightly from 42% in July. More than a third (37%) says his policies have no had an effect so far. By comparison, 48% of Republicans say that the administration’s policies have not had an effect on economic conditions yet and another 40% say they have made things worse.

Less Optimism About Economic Policies

The public is somewhat less optimistic than they were a few months ago that Barack Obama’s policies will improve the economy and reduce the budget deficit. A majority (57%) of the public says they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve the economy while 35% are pessimistic. In July, 63% were optimistic and 28% were pessimistic that his policies would improve the economy.

When it comes to the deficit, the public is more divided about the influence of Obama’s policies; 48% say they are optimistic while 42% are pessimistic that his policies will reduce the budget deficit over the long run. In July, 54% expressed optimism that his policies would reduce the budget deficit compared with 36% who were pessimistic.

The decline in optimism is coming mostly from independents and Republicans. A majority (56%) of independents still say they are optimistic that Obama’s policies will improve the economy, which is down slightly from 64% in July. When it comes to the effect of his policies on reducing the deficit, independents are now divided (48% pessimistic, 42% optimistic). In July, a majority (52%) of independents were still optimistic, compared with 38% who said they were pessimistic.

Not surprisingly, Republicans continue to say they are pessimistic about Obama’s policies. About seven-in-ten (71%) say they are pessimistic that his policies will improve the economy, up from 60% in July. Similarly, about three-fourths (76%) of Republicans say they are pessimistic that his policies will reduce the deficit, up slightly from 68% in J
uly. Democrats remain overwhelmingly optimistic that his policies will improve the economy (80%) and reduce the deficit in the long term (73%).

National and Personal Economic Ratings Stable

Americans continue to offer negative views of national economic situation. Only 9% rate economic conditions as excellent or good, largely unchanged from last month. More than four-in-ten (43%) say economic conditions are fair and another 48% say economic conditions are poor. In August, 38% said the economic situation was only fair and 52% said it was in poor shape. Ratings of the national economy have remained low since they plummeted in the first few months of last year.

People rate their own personal financial situations more positively than national conditions, but here, too, ratings remain relatively low. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they are in excellent (6%) or good (32%) shape financially while 38% rate their situation as only fair and 22% say they are in poor shape financially. These numbers are virtually unchanged since August. Historically, personal financial ratings are much more stable than ratings of the national economy, both in economic good times as well as bad ones.

Americans remain optimistic that economic conditions as a whole will get better in the next year; 45% say they expect conditions to be better than they are at present while 38% expect them to the about the same as now. Only 15% say they think the economy will be worse.

Similarly, nearly six-in-ten (59%) think the financial situation of their family will improve a lot (10%) or some (49%) over the course of the next year. About a quarter (23%) think it will get worse while 13% volunteer that they think their financial situation will stay the same.

Jobs Continue to be Top Personal Worry

The job situation remains the economic issue that worries the public most when it comes to their own financial situation – 46% say the job situation is their biggest worry. Jobs have been the top economic worry since February. More than quarter (27%) cites rising prices as the economic issue that worries them the most, only 14% say problems in the financial markets and 7% cite declining real estate values. These numbers have been fairly stable since June.

Americans also overwhelmingly express a negative view of the local job market. About eight-in-ten (79%) say that jobs are difficult to find in their community; only 14% say there are plenty of jobs available. This is largely unchanged from early February.

When a separate group of respondents was asked about good jobs in their area, slightly more say that good jobs are hard to find than those who were asked about jobs in general (84% vs. 79%). In July 2008, the last time both questions were asked, 73% said good jobs were hard to find, but only 58% said jobs were difficult to find. As views of the job market have grown more negative over the past year, the gap between the ratings of jobs and good jobs has narrowed.

The increase in the proportion saying good jobs are difficult to find is especially high among those in the Midwest. Now, 94% of Midwesterners say that good jobs are hard to find – higher than people living in any other region – and an increase from 73% in July 2008. The increases in other regions have been more modest.

There also has been a dramatic shift among Republicans in perceptions of the availability of good jobs; 85% now say that good jobs are hard to find, up 25 points from July 2008. The changes among independents and Democrats have been much more modest. The partisan gap in evaluations of the job market that was evident last year has now disappeared. There have also been increases in the proportion saying good jobs are difficult to find across most age, education and income groups.

With the national unemployment rate rising, 42% of Americans currently say there has been a time when a member of their household has been without a job and looking for work over the past twelve months. This is up from 35% in December of last year.

A majority of young people continue to experience household unemployment; 61% of those younger than 30 say a member of their household has been out of work, far more than in any other age group. In addition, nearly half (49%) of those with incomes less than $30,000 have dealt with household unemployment, compared with 28% of those with family incomes.

There has been little change since early this year in how working people view the financial condition of their employers. Six-in-ten working Americans rate the financial condition of their employers as excellent (18%) or good (42%). About a quarter (27%) say their employer is in only fair shape and 10%