Good news for the president is met with disbelief

May 07, 2014, 4:05 PM GMT+0

Things are looking up for Obama as his approval rate improves, but few Americans trust official unemployment statistics

President Barack Obama has had a hard time finding any good news from public opinion polls in the last year – ever since his 2012 re-election. Since then his approval ratings have slipped, his signature healthcare law has come under strident attack, and the public has refused to see improvement in a bad economy.

But in the last few Economist/YouGov Polls, small changes suggest that there may be better news to come, even though there is not a lot of optimism, though there is skepticism about the data used to measure results in two critical areas – the economy and Obamacare. Last month, more Americans recognized that the unemployment rate had decreased since January 2009 than said it had increased. And this month, that perception remains.

However, Americans remain unsure about the economic future. In the next six months, 21% say there will be more jobs, but 26% think there will be fewer. As for the next year, they are just about as likely to say the jobless rate will go up in the next year as to say it will go down.

Most Republicans say news stories they have seen about the economy have been mostly negative; Democrats have seen mixed coverage. But there is an additional source of information about the economy, and that is the unemployment statistics. For most Americans, those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Just 16% think the government jobless statistics are accurate.

41% of Democrats and 76% of Republicans agree that there are more people unemployed than are reflected in the numbers.

Of course, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the unemployment rate with a caveat: the rate does not include those who have given up looking or those in part-time work who would like to be employed full-time. Including those groups just about doubles the low 6.3% jobless rate (which is lower than at any time since the start of the Great Recession) to 12.3%, according to BLS figures.

Perceptions of how the economy is going are heavily influenced by party identification. The percentage who see the economy as getting worse today has dropped to 33% (it was over 50% in 2011 and even higher in 2008), but that percentage is still higher than the 23% who say the economy is getting better. But the parties see almost mirror images of how things are.

Nearly half of Republicans say the economy is getting worse, while nearly half of Democrats see improvement.

The President has touted higher than expected enrollment figures for the Affordable Care Act, with more than eight million signing up by mid-April. The latest poll findings continue to track last week’s first-time ever report that more now want to expand or keep the Affordable Care Act than favor repeal.

However, as has been the case all along, more (43%) call the law a failure than say it is a success (24%). In recent weeks, Democrats are becoming more willing to support the law, and to call it successful.

And here again, government statistics are being questioned. Just 29% think the government enrollment figures are accurate. Four in ten say there are fewer signups than what the government has reported. And that’s a belief that is even stronger among Republicans, nearly two-thirds of them say fewer people have signed up than the government claims.

Just about half of Democrats call the signup totals accurate.

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report that stated just 67% of signups on the federal exchange had paid for their coverage. Although the Committee admitted its report was incomplete, and its methodology was criticized, the story raised questions about what would finally be the actual enrollment. Both this poll and the Gallup Poll have seen increasing percentages reporting health care coverage today.

Even though the President has been buffeted by criticism about his policies – and his numbers – the slowly improving economic and Obamacare perceptions may be helping the overall assessment of this administration. This week, 46% approve of the way Barack Obama is handling his job, the highest percentage in nearly a year (early June, 2013, was the last time 46% approved of how the President was handling his job. Even though 49% still disapprove, perhaps Barack Obama can feel a little bit more popular today.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.