Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson attempted to inject a dose of optimism into the economic debate on Tuesday, telling the Wall Street Journal, "There's no doubt that things feel better today, by a lot, than they did in March." But the Bush administration's economic emissary may have a tough sell to make to the American public, which, according to recent data from ABC News and Gallup, is still reeling from a combination of financial troubles: pain at the pump, rising food prices and a growing unemployment rate.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index [PDF], a composite rating of the public's overall attitude on the economy, dropped five points in the last week to hit -46 points on a +100 to -100 scale; this is its lowest rating in the last 15 years and just four points above the survey's 22-year low. Just 14 percent of respondents rated the economy positively, the fewest since August 1993 and a 17-point drop since the beginning of this year. Only one in five said that now is a good time for purchasing, down 11 points since January. And a 53-percent majority of respondents now rate their own personal finances negatively, up 10 points in the last month.
In a recent Gallup poll, about seven in 10 respondents reported having enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle, down slightly over the past year. But, demonstrating that economic anxiety is reverberating beyond the short term, only 46 percent of non-retirees told Gallup pollsters they think they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, down 7 points since last year. In fact, when asked in April whether or not they were worried about a number of economic issues, more respondents cited fears about their retirement than any other problem; 63 percent said they were worried they would not have enough money to retire, placing the issue ahead of health care costs and more immediate concerns like monthly bills and credit card payments.
What explains these long-term economic fears? Gallup found that those surveyed seemed to be worried about the future value of their current investments and "the impact of recent economic trends on their financial well-being." Just 17 percent of those who have yet to retire told Gallup that they expect stocks or mutual funds to be an important source of income during retirement, down about one-third since last year. Taken together, the ABC and Gallup polls find very little evidence of Paulson's hopefulness among average Americans. And, as Gallup points out, "with many baby boomers approaching retirement age, the full impact of today's economic woes may not be fully realized for several years."
The Show Must Go On
The long Democratic primary may be grueling for Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but a recent USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that supporters of both candidates want all primaries and caucuses to play out before either one exits the race.
Six in 10 Democratic voters told pollsters that both Clinton and Obama should remain in the race. (The survey was conducted shortly before Tuesday's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.) Not surprisingly, what people told pollsters should happen next in the campaign depended largely on which candidate they favor. Those who back Obama split 50/50: Half said both should continue in the race, and the other half said Clinton should drop out. Nearly seven in 10 Clinton supporters, however, indicated that both should remain in the race, compared with 28 percent who said Obama should drop out.
But Democratic superdelegates should not wait until the convention to make up their minds, said almost seven in 10 of those polled. Nearly half preferred that a nominee be chosen by early June, when all the primaries and caucuses are completed. Only a quarter told pollsters that Tuesday's primaries should have been the superdelegates' deadline -- a sentiment few undecided party insiders seem to share, especially given the contests' inconclusive results.