Americans see better economic news as Republicans turn optimistic

August 14, 2017, 2:00 PM GMT+0

Five times as many Republicans can accurately cite the current jobless rate as could one year ago

Positive feelings about the American economy have jumped since the inauguration of Donald Trump, but the improvement is mostly due to a major turnaround by Republicans in how they see things going. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Republicans are much more likely now than they were a year ago to believe unemployment is low and are far less likely to call it a very serious problem today.

The poll underscores the political aspect of economic evaluations. One year ago in July, the jobless rate was 4.9% and nearly 300,000 new jobs had been added, more than seven times as many as reported the month before. Still, nearly half of Republicans claimed they saw mostly negative economic news. Now, with the latest (even lower) 4.3% jobless rate, Republicans see mostly positive news. Meanwhile, Democratic perceptions of economic news have hardly changed.

Five times as many Republicans correctly state the jobless rate today as were able to do so last year. 28% today know the rate is below 5%. Last year, only 5% knew it was that low. In the latest poll, more than half of Republicans knew the jobless rate dropped in the last month.

The unemployment rate has become a statistic Republicans trust now, too, just as the President now accepts data he rejected as “phony” last year. The percentage of Republicans who think the unemployment rate is a “poor” indicator of the health of the economy has dropped from nearly half, 49%, last year to only 17% today. There is now no difference between GOP and Democratic perception of the unemployment rate’s validity, and Democratic judgment hasn’t changed.

Democrats now see joblessness as more of a problem than Republicans do, a reversal of last year’s poll data. Last July, nearly half of Republicans called joblessness a “very serious” problem nationally and a third called it very serious in their own communities. Now, the share of Republicans who think this is under 20%.

Democrats are more concerned than Republicans, but not much more than they were a year ago.

Republicans claim they have seen a personal improvement as well. Nearly half, 46%, say their own family’s finances have improved in the last year, something claimed by only 16% of Democrats. Again, Democrats have not become more negative, but positive GOP assessments have soared. When it comes to the economy, most Republicans now think it is getting better; one year ago, most Republicans said it was getting worse. Democrats are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, just as they were last year. However, the percentage of optimistic Democrats dropped 15 points.

Donald Trump’s current approval rating, 37%, is lower than Barack Obama’s was a year ago. But for both men, more Americans disapproved than approved. The assessment on handling the economy, now and then, is similar for both men – as many disapprove as approve. President Trump’s 43% approval rating for handling the economy is one of his best scores with the public overall.

Americans expect a President to do something to increase employment. Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats agree that the President can do a lot to improve the economy, and members of both parties generally agree that government in general has a role, too. However, Democrats are much more inclined than Republicans to want the federal government to act to increase employment. Two-thirds of Democrats believe the federal government should encourage employment through incentives, something just 49% of Republicans agree with.

For now, Americans are slightly more likely to credit President Obama for the low joblessness figures than they are to credit President Trump. 36% say President Obama should get more of the credit for the low unemployment numbers, while 32% say it’s due more to President Trump’s actions.

See the full results from the latest The Economist/YouGov poll.

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