The balance tilts further toward pessimism on another priority: creating a business climate that promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. The public is, by far, most dubious that Washington will control the federal deficit, with a 51 percent majority picking the two most pessimistic options. That response is driven partly by overwhelming skepticism among Republicans, but almost three-fifths of independents also expect little progress on blotting the red ink.
Another question measuring expectations about broader trends through Obama’s second term produced a similarly arid forecast. Only 51 percent of those surveyed say they expect the economy to improve over the next four years. Even smaller percentages expect improvement in their personal financial situation (39 percent); the economic well-being of middle-class Americans (36 percent); narrowing the income gap between rich and everyone else (36 percent); and lessening the federal deficit (34 percent.) More respondents expect taxes to increase (62 percent) and government spending to rise (51 percent). Still, only one-fourth look for government spending to increase on programs that would benefit people like them.
On each of these questions, whites are far more pessimistic than minorities, with the only exception that neither group is confident about narrowing the gap between rich and poor. Two-thirds of minorities, for instance, compared with just over two-fifths of whites, say they expect the economy to improve; the gap is even wider in projections about personal financial circumstances. Slightly more than one-third of minorities expect government to spend more on programs that will benefit people like them; only about one-fifth of whites agree.
As negotiations on the deficit and other issues accelerate, most Americans, consistent with past surveys, say they want both sides to compromise. Just under three-fifths of Obama voters say he should “compromise with Republicans to get more done, even if it means accepting some policies” that the respondents don’t support. Fifty-four percent of Romney voters respond the same way about congressional Republicans compromising with Obama. That continues a consistent pattern in surveys of Republican partisans showing somewhat less enthusiasm about compromise than Democrats. (“I want there to be a divide,” says Chandra, the Tennessee homemaker. “I don’t want people to give up.”)
Fewer respondents think the two sides will, in fact, compromise. Just 43 percent said they expect the president and Congress to “work together more than they did in the previous four years.” Forty-five percent said they thought relations will be about the same, and 10 percent said they think the two sides will cooperate even less, which is a little like forecasting a drought in a desert. Democrats and minorities are much more optimistic about progress than Republicans and whites, with independents falling in between.
Obama, the poll suggests, moves into these discussions in a slightly strengthened political position. In the survey, he experiences a swell, not a surge, in support. His approval rating in the poll rose to 54 percent, up from 49 percent in the preelection September survey and his strongest showing since the July 2009 Heartland Monitor. But his approval rating still sits at just 43 percent among whites and 48 percent among independents.
Another key measure also shows perceptible, but modest, tailwinds for the president. The share of Americans who say the country is moving on the right track bumped up from 35 percent in September to 41 percent now, the best number since April 2009. But Democrats primarily fueled that advance: Only about one in three independents (and whites) and just one in 11 Republicans agree that the country is moving in the right direction.
Meanwhile, just 44 percent of adults (including a microscopic 9 percent of Romney voters) expect the economy to improve over the next year. The share who think their personal situation will improve fell from 45 percent in September to 39 percent now, with Republicans primarily driving the decline.
Obama reaps only small gains, well within the margin of error, on two questions about the impact of his economic policies. Respondents still divide almost exactly in half on whether his agenda is laying the foundation for recovery or produces record deficits while failing to end the recession; and whether his approach will increase or decrease opportunity for people like them. In each case, minorities are substantially more likely than whites to see positive effects from Obama’s agenda; in the 11 Heartland Monitor polls since January 2010, not more than 28 percent of whites have ever said they believe Obama’s agenda would increase opportunities for people like them. (On this front, college and noncollege whites substantially agree.)