As John McCain and Barack Obama tour the country promising more jobs, lower gasoline prices and other economic improvements, voters remain disgruntled on the economy. But new polling suggests that negative sentiment may have bottomed out as public opinion has ticked up since the spring -- albeit slightly.
The number of CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll respondents who said the U.S. is in a recession has dropped for the first time since last October. It may just be a matter of improving from "worse" to "bad," however, as a full 75 percent in the recent poll still said that the economy is in a recession. That figure is down from 79 percent at the end of April, but in December, CNN pollsters recorded just under 60 percent who saw an ongoing recession, and only two-thirds of respondents said so in February.
While most Americans clearly agree the economy is hurting, the perceived seriousness of the situation seems to be waning. The percentage of respondents who said the country is in a “serious” recession is down 2 percentage points from March (27 percent from 29 percent) while the percentage of people characterizing the recession as “mild” rose 3 points (19 percent from 16 percent). Those in the middle, who labeled the recession “moderate,” remained steady.
The ABC Consumer Comfort Index [PDF] echoes the slight improvements seen by CNN pollsters. It’s now 10 points above the all-time low hit at the end of May (-41 on a scale of +100 to -100, compared with the record -51). While the percentage of respondents who rated the economy positively remained a measly 15 percent -- the same as last week -- public opinion of the current buying climate rose a point. And there was a 2-point jump in respondents’ ratings of their own personal finances, narrowly pushing that measure over the 50 percent mark.
But if public alarm over the economy showed signs of softening, it may have been as much a matter of resignation as hope. When asked to predict how long the perceived recession would last -- "less than six months, six months to a year, one to two years or longer than that" -- the general consensus in CNN's survey continues to linger toward the long end.
A slim majority of respondents predicted that the recession would last at least another year, and two-fifths of this group said they expected it to last longer than two years. While the percentage of people saying it would last between one year and two dropped 4 points since March (30 percent from a half-sample’s estimate of 34 percent), the number who thought it would last longer than two years went up from 19 percent to 23 percent.
The small percentage of people who indicated the economy would improve faster remained as low as it had been in March. Not even two in 10 predicted an upswing would occur between six months and a year from now, while a scant 2 percent forecast an improvement within the next six months.