Why Americans don't see an improving economy

March 13, 2014, 2:49 PM GMT+0

Perceptions of how well the economy is performing are still largely negative, with Americans tending to say things are getting worse rather than better

It takes a long time for evidence of a slowly improving economy to register with Americans: despite continued job creation and long-term stock gains, Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll are still more likely to see the economy as getting worse than to see it getting better.

The results are better today that they have been for most of Barack Obama’s Presidency – but there have been only a few moments in recent years when American people were as willing to be optimistic as pessimistic about the economy.

The latest poll shows how any news about economic improvement doesn’t filter down to many Americans: Americans report hearing more bad than good news about the economy from the news media (the American news media has often been accused of focusing on the negative). But in addition, Americans hear mostly negative news about the economy from their own circles. Just 13% have heard mostly positive stories from the news media and only 8% have heard mostly positive words from friends and relatives.

Frequently, assessments of the economy have a partisan dimension – and in this week’s poll that is true when it comes to overall judgments. But that isn’t the case when it comes to what people are hearing. For example, 58% of Republicans say the overall economy is getting worse, and only 6% say it is improving. Democrats say the economy is improving, by 35% to 23%. While that is a much smaller margin in the positive direction than the Republicans’ negative evaluation, it is still positive.

But both Democrats and Republicans hear bad news more than good news – and from both the news media and from friends and relatives.

There is one bit of good economic news. A growing share of the public recognizes that the unemployment rate is now lower than it was when Barack Obama took office. The margin seeing improvement has grown in the last few months. In December, more believed the unemployment rate was higher than it was when the President took office.

The jobless rate has been lower than it was in January 2009 for more than a year.

Americans are less sure that things will continue to improve. Just 20% think there will be more jobs in the next six months. There hasn’t been much change on this question since December.

In fact, Americans aren’t positive about the jobs outlook until they are asked to look five years into the future. And even then, their predictions for jobs growth are only slightly positive. Asked about their expectations about the unemployment rate during the next year, they are as likely to say the rates will be higher as they are to say they will decline. Five years in the future, slightly more look to a decrease in the jobless rate than an increase.

Assessments of the President’s handling of the economy have remained fairly stagnant. In this week’s poll, 39% approve of his handling of the economy, while 52% do not.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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