Americans still see a sluggish economy

April 21, 2014, 1:54 PM GMT+0

Americans are still skeptical of claims that the economy is improving

Several times in the last few years, as the Economist/YouGov Poll took stock of Americans’ economic expectations, it has appeared that Americans might be coming out of the economic doldrums, but each time opinions turned negative again. The same stuttering response may be happening again, as Americans refuse to become optimistic about the country’s short-term economic future.

Asked about what is taking place in the economy, less than one in four think it is getting better. More – 32% -- think it is continuing to get worse.

For the last few weeks, opinion about the state of the economy has been fairly stable: better than it was late last year, and not quite as good as it had been earlier in 2013. The short government shutdown and fears about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act may have dampened previous hopes: several times in 2013 the percentage believing things were improving came close to those who felt the opposite. Those positive movements also took place in 2010, 2011 and 2012, usually near the start of each calendar year. But as each year went on and the economy failed to move quickly, positive opinion sagged again. Today, the good news may be that more than in previous polls say the economy is stable: 39% say that today, and it is the most popular response.

Republicans, majorities of whom have reported in prior polls that they see the economy as getting worse, are more divided this week. Just as many Republicans say the economy is staying the same or improving as think things are getting worse. Democrats come down on the positive or neutral side.

The public still reports hearing more bad news than good news about the economy, and are even more likely to say this today than they did last month. 42% this month say the media coverage of the economy they hear is mostly bad, up from 37% last month. And half say the discussions they have about the economy with friends and family are also mostly negative. Those perceptions persist despite recent news about the slowly dropping unemployment rate and the growing number of new jobs. At the start of this month, employment in the private sector finally exceeded employment before the start of the Great Recession.

More Americans correctly recognize that the unemployment rate is lower today than it was when Barack Obama became President, but one in three (and almost half of Republicans) believe it is higher today. Looking ahead, the country is divided on where the jobless rate will be in the future, with as many thinking it will be higher as saying it will be lower in the next year and the next five years. Those low expectations also leave the public in a rather indecisive frame of mind as to where the economy goes from here.