June 5, 2012

Perceptions of Economic News Turn More Negative

Majority Now Hearing Mostly Bad News about Jobs

Overview

The public’s perceptions of economic news have taken a turn for the worse. And that could be bad news for Barack Obama, who held a lead over Mitt Romney in polling conducted mostly before last week’s disappointing jobs report and stock market slide.

Currently 37% say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy, up from 32% last month and the highest percentage expressing that view this year, according to a new survey conducted May 31-June 3 among 1,012 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Perhaps even more politically charged, the new poll finds the number of Americans saying they have been hearing mostly bad news about jobs has spiked, from 38% in March to 55% currently. The lone positive finding for the Obama campaign in the current survey is that markedly fewer report hearing mostly bad news about gasoline prices – 48% today, compared with 85% in March.

On balance, the public’s views of economic news remain far more positive than they were last fall. But this marks the second year in a row when perceptions of economic news have grown more negative in the late spring.

The downturn in perceptions of economic news came as Barack Obama held a 49% to 42% lead over Mitt Romney in the presidential horserace. That survey, among 3,003 adults, including 2,338 registered voters, was conducted over the past several weeks (May 9-June 3).

It was largely completed before the release of a weaker-than-expected federal jobs report on June 1 and recent declines in financial markets.

Past surveys have found that Obama’s job approval, and his standing in the presidential race, has been somewhat better when perceptions of economic news are less negative. In March, Obama’s job rating reached 50% (for the first time since Osama bin Laden’s killing) and he held his widest lead to date over Romney (54% to 42%). That month, just 24% said they were hearing mostly bad news about the economy, the lowest percentage in more than a year.

Last November, 48% of the public said they were hearing mostly bad economic. At that point, 46% approved of Obama’s job performance. Obama and Romney were running essentially even in a hypothetical race; 49% of registered voters said they would vote for Obama, while 47% said they would vote for Romney.

Perceptions of Continuing Economic Uncertainty

Though the employment situation showed signs of improvement earlier in the year, recent reports indicate that job growth has slowed. Last week, the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate had ticked up from 8.1% in April to 8.2% in May and that job creation for the month had been much lower than expected.

A majority (55%) now say that they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation. While that is up sharply from March (38%), it is closer to the numbers recorded late last year: 51% said this in early December and 64% in November. This measure hit a peak last August (74% mostly bad news), amid increased concern about an economic slowdown.

Nearly half (47%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about the financial markets. Again, that is up sharply from March (29%), but about where it stood last November (50%). Last August, about seven-in-ten (69%) said they were hearing mostly bad news about the markets.

The public sees more positive news about gas prices, reflecting the reality that prices have dropped recently in most parts of the country. In March, as fuel prices were rising quickly, 85% said they were hearing mostly bad news about gas prices, 12% said they were hearing a mix of good and bad news and 2% said they were hearing mostly good news. Currently, 48% say they are hearing mostly bad news, while about as many are either hearing mixed news (31%) or mostly good news (19%).

A survey released May 31 found that about half of the public said the price of gasoline had gone down over the past month. But most people living along the West Coast, where gas prices have increased, said that prices had risen.

Perceptions of news about real estate values and consumer prices have shown less recent volatility. Currently, 43% say they are hearing mostly bad news about real estate values while 36% say they are hearing mixed news about this; 14% say they are hearing mostly good news, the highest percentage since spring 2010.

Nearly half (46%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about prices for food and consumer goods, down only slightly since March (50%), but down more sharply since last August (62%). Four-in-ten (40%) say they are hearing a mix of good and bad news about prices, while 7% say they are hearing mostly good news.

Partisan Differences in Views of Economic News

Currently, about half (52%) of Republicans say recent news about the economy has been mostly bad, up from just 33% in March. Democrats’ views of economic news have changed little over this period: 23% say economic news is mostly bad, compared with 19% who did so in March. Among independents, 37% currently views economic news negatively, a 14-point increase since March.

Since March, the proportion of people with family incomes of $75,000 or more who view economic news as mostly bad has doubled – from 19% then to 41% today. A third of those with incomes of $30,000 to $75,000 say recent economic news is mostly bad, up modestly from March (24%). The change in negative perceptions has been about the same among those with incomes of less than $30,000 (38% today, 28% in March).

Over the past three months, the percentage hearing mostly bad news about the job situation has risen across the political spectrum. Currently, 46% of Democrats say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation, compared with 29% in March. The percentage of Democrats hearing mostly good news about jobs has fallen by more than half – from 26% in March to 11% today.

Republicans and independents also express more negative views of the job situation. Today, 65% of Republicans say the news about jobs is mostly bad, up from 42% in March. Since then, there has been a 12-point increase in the share of independents hearing mostly bad news about the job situation (41% then, 53% today).

Cite this publication: “Perceptions of Economic News Turn More Negative.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (June 5, 2012) http://www.people-press.org/2012/06/05/perceptions-of-economic-news-turn-more-negative/, accessed on July 22, 2014.