How elections change Americans’ economic outlooks

January 29, 2021, 5:45 PM UTC

The state of the economy often makes a difference in who wins and who loses elections. But elections also change the way people feel about the economy. Although Americans in Economist/YouGov polls recently have expressed concern about the direction of the economy (with 41% believing it is getting worse), those who are concerned have shifted.  

Currently, Republicans (56%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (23%) to say the national economy is getting worse. But before the election of Joe Biden, Republicans were exuberant about the state of the economy, with two-thirds (64%) describing it as “getting better” while Democrats were exceptionally negative — only 4% saw it improving in October when President Donald Trump was in office.   

Some of the GOP enthusiasm may have had to do with their extraordinary support of President Trump, whose approval rating on handling the economy was often his best assessment, usually outpacing his overall approval rating. In the week before the inauguration of President Biden, 50% of Americans approved of the way President Trump was handling the economy, eight points above his overall approval rating. Nine in 10 Republicans (91%) approved of his economic performance.   

Democrats are feeling better about the economy today than they had before, even though only one in five Democrats (19%) today say it is getting better.  

This type of change in perception of the economy is common when presidential administrations change. Before President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, half of Republicans (53%) said the economy was getting worse. Afterwards, just 8% believed it was on the decline. Democrats moved in the other direction.  

But when administrations change, Americans also change how they feel about their own personal situation (or at least they change the way they express how they feel). The largest share of the public sees no change in their own family’s financial situation in the last year, but there have been shifts in the number who think they are better off than they were – particularly among Republicans. In late-October, two in five (44%) Republicans believed their families were better off compared to the previous year. This week, just one in five (19%) say that. 

Democrats remain negative about their personal finances. One in three in each poll describe their family as worse off now than they were a year ago. 

But Democrats have become positive about the direction the country is heading. By five to three (51% to 31%), they believe the country is now on the right track, the first time a majority of Democrats have said this since the Obama Administration. Republicans, however, have turned negative.  

National Tracking
 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 24 - 26, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.7% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty