The Return Of Economic Pessimism

Americans are getting pessimistic about the state of the economy again.

Americans appear to be becoming more pessimistic about the state of the economy, and that could spell trouble for President Obama:

Economic pessimism is on the rise as Americans predict that the unemployment rate will start ticking back upward and expect a deterioration in their household finances over the next year, according to a new survey Friday.

Just 22 percent of Americans said that the economy has improved in the past month, down from the 28 percent who said so in February, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Meanwhile, 35 percent predict that the unemployment rate, which has been slowly dropping, will start going back up, up from 30 percent who believed that in February.

Fewer than one in three Americans believe their household’s economic condition will improve in the next year, down from 37 percent just three months ago, while 18 percent believe their finances will deteriorate, up from 11 percent in February.

This increased economic pessimism extends to Democrats as well — the share of Democrats who called the economy “good” dropped from 48 percent in February to 31 percent now.


The public is split over whether the president is handling the economy well and leans toward disapproval — 52 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, while 46 percent approve.

It’s worth noting that the President’s overall approval rating in the poll is at 53%, which is actually higher than the current poll average. The disapproval rate on the economy, however, is consistent with where the current average stands:

It seems rather obvious these disapproval ratings on the economy would increase if the public perception that the economy is not recovering continues to take hold, and this could pose a problem for the President over the next six months. We’ve seen in poll after poll that the economy and jobs are far and away the top issues on voters minds this year, as they have been for the past three years or more, and an incumbent President running for re-election in the midst of a weak economy is likely to find himself in trouble no matter how hard he pushes a negative campaign against his opponent.

At this point, of course, there really isn’t much of anything that the President can do either about the economic numbers or public perception as it’s influenced by those numbers. Not only is it unlikely that much of anything could make it through Congress before the Election, but even if it did it’s not at all clear that such action would have enough of an immediate impact on the economy to really make a difference. In some sense, then the President is going to have to hope that economic picture improves over the next six months and that we don’t get a repeat of the spring/summer slowdown that we’ve seen for each of the past two years. If that happens, then we’re likely to make it to Labor Day, the traditional start of the General Election campaign, with a stagnant economic and people still mired in unemployment that remains stubbornly high. And that would not be a good playing field for any incumbent no matter how likeable he happens to be.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Economics and Business, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. So basically, the economy is improving, but not fast enough to convince Americans who can’t see the bigger picture, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it but because he’s Obama, it’s going to hurt him despite the fact that he can do very little?

  2. Good Lord.

    I just sent this to James:

    Consumer Sentiment increases in May to 77.8

    Consumer sentiment is now higher than it has been since the 2008 crash .. but Doug finds something negative to report.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so damn sad.

  3. Tano says:

    If you want an explanation for why it is that the government has an ever-encroaching presence in the private economy, you need look no further than this massive incentive system that exists in which the Presidency, the pinnacle of political power, is won or lost based on a perception of how well the incumbent is “running the economy”.

    If Presidents are to be evaluated on this basis, then they will necessarily do anything and everything they can to amass sufficient power so that they actually can direct the functioning of the economy. This will be true for both parties.

    I would think that libertarian-minded people would be doing all they could to remind their fellow citizens that the President does not run the economy, they they should not want him to do so, and so they should not use the state of the economy as the primary driver of their voting decision.

  4. @john personna:

    From your link:

    Overall sentiment is still fairly weak – probably due to a combination of the high unemployment rate, high gasoline prices and the sluggish economy.

  5. BTW, another story you won’t see here:

    Gas prices: Down and headed lower

  6. Hey Norm says:

    I’m not even sure what this post is about…other than Doug’s Obama-hate.
    Obama’s disapproval on the economy is at 53%…but if you look at the “Related Posts” section it has a link to another post Doug did in September of ’11 that had Obama’s disapproval on the economy at 62%. Now in this post Doug is arguing Obama’s situation could get worse. But in reality it has been getting better. So this post should really be that Obama has had a 9-10% swing to the good in the last 6-7 months.
    But that would not satisfy Doug’s Obama-hate.

  7. (Your readers, and voters, are not idiots Doug. No one believes or is arguing that the 2008 crash has been wholly offset through new growth. They do understand that they are in a recovery though. The “pessimism” poll you cite not withstanding.)

  8. @Hey Norm:

    It’s probably not hate. I wouldn’t judge Doug that harshly. There is no doubt though that he scans the news for “what bad thing can I possibly find about the economy?”

  9. @john personna:

    Actually I was on the gas price story ten days ago. CNN is late to the party

  10. Hey Norm says:

    @ JP…
    A turd by any other name is still a turd.
    The bias is transparent.
    But it is his blog and thus he is entitled to his biases.
    It’s just entertaining when the facts don’t align with his ideology.

  11. Davebo says:

    Despite undeniable improvements in the economy, unemployment and gas prices this polls show Americans are for some reason pessimistic.

    I wonder what could be causing that?

  12. Davebo says:

    And in case I’m not being clear, that was a purely rhetorical question.

  13. @Doug Mataconis:

    OK, I do acknowledge that you did post that “happy economic news” article. It is not all doom and gloom.

    Perhaps the timing of the AP-GfK poll was just unfortunate, coming as it did ahead of Consumer Sentiment pointing the other way.

  14. PJ says:

    The state of the economy was the indicator that showed that Obama wasn’t going to be reelected.
    Then the economy improved.
    Cue the gas price as the indicator that showed that Obama wasn’t going to get reelected.
    Then the gas price started to fall.
    And now the economy makes it’s comeback as the indicator that shows that Obama isn’t going to get reelected….

    It is getting tiresome.

  15. anjin-san says:

    From the noted pro-Obama rag, the Wall St. Journal:

    NEW YORK—Stocks traded higher as a measure of inflation fell and a gauge of consumer sentiment improved

    Consumer sentiment improved in early May, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index, bucking economists’ expectations for a decline.

    Crude-oil futures lost 1.3% to $95.78 a barrel, while gold futures dropped 0.9% to $1550.80 an ounce.

    Yes folks, its all going south and there is nothing Obama can do about it. Thank you for tuning into Fox News.

  16. Rob in CT says:

    Heck, I’m pessmistic even though my family is doing great. Why? Because I think nothing significant has changed in the financial sector and that it’s only a matter of time before they do it all again. That, and Europe.

    See also: JP Morgan’s little oopsie.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    @ anjin-san…
    Also from the WSJ…Unemployment without the Goverment shrinkage Doug loves so much would be 7.1%, not 8.1%.
    I don’t remember Dougs post on that…but I may have missed it…I’ve been traveling lately because the economy has been getting better.

  18. anjin-san says:

    I’ve been traveling lately because the economy has been getting better.

    Yea, I’ve had a ton of work come in recently, including a big project from a start up.

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    There’s every reason to be pessimistic when economic growth is still entirely dependent on large deficits, deficits which are falling as federal, state and local governments continue to reduce spending. Those reductions were responsible for the abysmal jobs report in April and the continued decline in the labor force as job growth continues to lag behind population growth. We need immediate stimulus to ensure growth doesn’t slow to near zero.

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @john personna:

    But the recovery is small, uneven, and ignoring many parts of the U.S. Maybe what Americans are really pessimistic about is that they live in a country where the leadership seems to not care. Maybe if the the Democrats worked as hard on expanding the private sector that they did on homosexual rights, everyone would be better off.

  21. dennis says:

    Well, then, Doug, vote for Romney. Then watch what happens: an amalgam of all your schizophrenic posts on the competency of today’s GOP to govern. It’ll leave you shaking your head; especially the part where Romney starts the invasion of Iran.