Two parties with two views of the American economy

January 12, 2024, 7:33 PM GMT+0

American assessments of the state of the economy are often out of sync with economic measures. For example, while the number of jobs in the country is increasing as the unemployment rate has dropped, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds that just 37% of Americans say that the number of jobs is increasing.

There has been a partisan tinge to Americans' economic assessments in recent years. With Democrat Joe Biden in the White House, twice as many Democrats as Republicans today believe jobs are increasing. And Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say the unemployment rate decreased since last month. (It held steady, according to the latest report.)

Nearly three times as many Republicans (62%) as Democrats (22%) say the economy is getting worse. And when it comes to the inflation rate, twice as many Republicans (49%) as Democrats (25%) expect it to rise in the next six months.

It's not just national economic indicators: Democrats assess their own economic situation more positively than Republicans do. More than half of Republicans say that their and their family’s economic situation has gotten worse in the last year, three times the percentage of Democrats who say so (53% vs. 18%). More Republicans than Democrats say they personally have felt the impact of high inflation (67% vs. 39%). However, similar percentages of Republicans and Democrats believe they probably or definitely will have enough money to pay their bills this month.

In 2000, a change in presidential administration from Democratic to Republican shifted the way partisanship affects economic views – even without a real change in economic measures. Economic assessments shifted in the opposite direction when Biden succeeded Trump as president. At the beginning of the Trump administration, Republicans and Democrats differed on how they saw the economy moving, with Republicans far more likely than Democrats to say the economy was getting better and Democrats far more likely to say it was getting worse. That difference was even larger in the weeks before the 2020 election. A month after Joe Biden’s victory — which was a month before his inauguration — Democrats remained negative on the direction of the economy, while Republicans were moving in that direction. The responses in the week before and the week after the inauguration show large movements in both parties. By the time Biden took office, Republicans viewed economic trends more negatively and Democrats saw them more positively.

Recent research by Ben Harris and Aaron Sojourner of the Brookings Institute offers another explanation – that the coverage of economic news has become more negative. Today, Republicans and Democrats hear different news. The most recent Economist/YouGov Poll finds that Republicans and Democrats have very different choices when it comes to cable news. Nearly half the country claims they don’t watch cable news, but among those who do, most Republicans (61%) watch Fox News as their primary cable news source and most Democrats primarily watch CNN (55%) or MSNBC (25%).

The news source matters. People whose primary cable news source is CNN or MSNBC are more likely than those with a primary source of Fox News to say the news stories they have heard about the economy are mostly positive, while 51% of regular Fox News viewers say they mostly hear news stories that are negative about the economy.

During the Trump presidency, regular Fox News viewers heard more positive news stories about the economy than did those who mostly watched CNN and MSNBC.

Other economic perceptions that are correlated with Americans' most important cable news source include worries about the future and statements about the present, including whether the currently in a recession, whether inflation — or the price of gasoline — is rising and how serious a problem unemployment is.

— David Montgomery contributed to this article

See the toplines and crosstabs from the Economist/YouGov poll conducted on January 7 - 9, 2024 among 1,593 U.S. adult citizens.

Methodology: Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 3%.

Image: Getty (Rob Carr)