WASHINGTON >> Few issues in a presidential campaign come close to being as meaningful as the economy. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll offers a look at how the public feels about this issue, which touches nearly every aspect of American life. As the 2016 candidates get set to kick off their campaigns, here are five things to know about public opinion on the economy.
THE ECONOMY ISN’T A MONOLITH
The economy, writ large, has been America’s top policy priority for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, despite the slowly building recovery and the recent skyrocketing stock market. But focusing on this overall concern masks a distinction that matters to many Americans. Though negative perceptions of the economy overall are down compared with four years ago (57 percent describe it as "poor" compared with 83 percent who did in November 2010), Americans’ ratings of their own finances are actually a bit worse than they were back then (38 percent describe their household’s finances as poor, up from 30 percent in 2010). Young Americans, under age 30, have an exceptionally negative take on their finances, with nearly half describing them as poor.
Along the same lines, while a majority of Americans say the stock market and big businesses have mostly recovered from the Great Recession, just 16 percent think small businesses have, 27 percent say the job market where they live is mostly recovered and only 34 percent say their family is largely back to normal.
EDUCATION, LOCATION, INCOME LINKED TO IMPRESSION OF ECONOMY
For some in America, the economy is humming along. Majorities of college graduates, urban residents and people with incomes of $100,000 or more say the economy is in good shape. By contrast, just 28 percent of rural residents, 35 percent without college degrees and 35 percent with incomes under $50,000 say it’s in good shape. Half of those with incomes under $50,000 and 42 percent of rural residents say they and their families haven’t yet recovered from the Great Recession.
Rural residents feel the labor and real estate markets in their area have been particularly hard hit: 45 percent say their local real estate market has only recovered a little or not at all, while 53 percent say the same about their local job market.
EXPECTATIONS ARE SOMEWHAT BETTER
The poll finds an uptick in Americans’ hopes for their own finances and the nation’s finances in the coming year. In the new poll, 34 percent say they expect their household’s financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, better than the 27 percent saying so in October. And 38 percent think the overall economic situation in the country will improve in the coming year, up from 31 percent in October. On both measures, the share saying things would worsen dropped significantly. Still, 48 percent see stagnation ahead for themselves and 42 percent see sluggishness for the economy more broadly.
INCHING TOWARD RECOVERY
That expectation of stagnation may be because that’s what most Americans think the economy is doing now. Asked how the economy had changed in the last month, 60 percent said it stayed about the same. Nearly a quarter think it improved, while 14 percent say it’s gotten worse. Those figures are slightly rosier than in October, when 24 percent said things had worsened. But the majority saying things are staying the same has held over two years of AP-GfK polls, with one exception during the partial government shutdown in October 2013 when the share saying things got worse spiked to 45 percent.
LITTLE FAITH IN WASHINGTON TO IMPROVE THINGS
Who can turn things around? Very few think it’s Washington. Two-thirds of Americans say it’s unlikely that the newly elected Republican majority in Congress will be able to improve the economy in the next two years, and 6 in 10 say Obama won’t be able to either. Three in 10 say they don’t even trust either party to handle the economy.
But Americans don’t completely discount that Washington can help: 52 percent say the government generally did a decent job helping the country recover from the Great Recession. A scant 10 percent, however, say that Washington did a "very good" job lifting the economy out of recession.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.