Economic optimism improves, but largely just among Democrats

March 16, 2021, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Unemployment is dropping. Public perception of the state of the economy is improving — modestly. While Americans continue to express concern about the future in this week’s Economist/YouGov poll, the percentage believing the economy is improving has doubled since President Joe Biden took office (10% to 20%).

But the “recovery” is a one-sided affair when it comes to opinion change. With a Democratic president in the White House, Democrats have become positive about how the economy is doing and where it is headed (36% this week think it is getting better, compared to 17% in January). Independents have also improved their opinion of the economy: 16% this week say it’s improving, compared to 8% at the beginning of the year. Just 9% of Republicans believe the economy is improving this week, similar to the 6% seen in January.

Clearly, this is an issue that matters when people judge presidents. Nearly nine in 10 Americans (86%) say improving the economy is something that is within the president’s power to achieve – with half (51%) believing a president can do “a lot” about it.

Currently Americans give President Biden positive marks, but his approval rating on this is lower than his overall rating, and not much different than what former President Donald Trump last year.

Independents were more positive about President Trump’s management of jobs and the economy during 2020 (52% approved), the last year of the Trump presidency, than they are about President Biden’s handling of the issue now (41% approve).

How serious of a problem is unemployment today?

Unemployment — both nationally and locally — remains a serious problem for most Americans. Two in five (44%) personally know someone who was laid off because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether that was themselves personally (13%), a close friend (19%), or family member (22%). Respondents could select multiple options, so the total number of affected Americans is different than the sum of each category. Democrats (52%) are more likely than Republicans (39%) to be know someone affected.

The unemployment rate, while dropping, remains high (6.3% this month), and most Americans (54%) believe the actual unemployment is even higher than the reported numbers.

Most Democrats (58%), Independents (56%), and half of Republicans (50%), say there are more unemployed people than the reported jobless rate. A third believe the unemployment rate is higher than 10%.

Related: Why Americans do (and don’t) support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between March 6 - 9, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample

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