Pessimists Club

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USA Today–an Up with People newspaper if there ever was one (and I don't mean that in a bad way)–reports on the increase in pessimism in these United States.

In the [recent Gallup] poll, 60% [of Americans] said they were dissatisfied with "the way things are going in the United States at this time." Except for a survey two weeks before the invasion of Iraq…a year ago, that is the most negative reading since 1996.

The question about the general direction of the country is one of the fundamental judgments voters make in deciding whether to support a president for re-election. That makes the public's pessimism, if it persists, a serious problem for the Bush campaign.
Bush's job-approval rating was a respectable 50%, however, which has been a sort of dividing line for presidents seeking re-election. Since 1948, no president who maintained an average job-approval rating of 50% or better in his re-election year has lost a bid for a second term. No president with a rating below 50% has won….

Concern about the economy appears to be driving down public satisfaction. Asked to identify the most important problem facing the country, the top two responses were the economy in general (21 percent) and jobs in particular (19 percent). They ranked far above fears about war, including the conflict with Iraq, at 11%. Concern was rising, though at single digits, about the federal budget deficit and gas prices.

The poll referenced above was taken before the Spanish bombings, so it's unclear how that might have affected U.S. mood.

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  1. The Reader’s Digest, likewise, isn’t afraid to report the real truth: that everything is just fine!

  2. Actually, I do not know what the true state of the economy is. I simply note that the same numbers produce differently shaded stories at different times.

    Some stories, like outsourcing, seem to get vastly disproportionate play compared to their possible impact on the economy. Outsourcing could not be responsible for more than 1 in every 100 lost jobs, yet news stories about it are nearly constant.

    Since the poll in question is an opinion poll I think it fair to ask how the media might be influencing people’s opinions.

  3. I’m with you on that, Shannon. Is this a perception or a reality?

    One thing I’ve noticed for sure, though, is that labor is not seen now as an asset but, rather, a liability.

    Companies and government entities are contracting out to avoid the short and long term benefit costs of that employee. Instead, they contract it out. They save 25 to 35% right off the bat and can get rid of them any time they want.

  4. I consider myself a very BAD prognosticator– at least when it comes to elections. Over my lifetime I don’t believe my own predictions amount to better than chance.
    That said, I go with Bush at about 55%…fully braced and prepared to be wrong about this.

  5. Since the poll in question is an opinion poll I think it fair to ask how the media might be influencing people’s opinions.

    I think it fair to ask how polls themselves might be influencing people’s opinions.

    When you have questions like this one (from the latest NYT/CBS survey) …

    “Do you approve or disapprove of the way George W. Bush is handling the economy?”

    … then the bias is already entrenched. Nowhere does the question leave room for the notion that a U.S. president doesn’t — or isn’t supposed to — “handle the economy” in the first place. By asking the question in this way, the pollster presumes that everyone starts with the same philosophical premises and from there it’s just a matter of empirical judgment.

    This stuff then gets condensed into the main presentation of the poll, like the NYT piece that leads with the phrase “Mr. Bush faces unrest over his management of the economy.” Again, it’s presented as a given that a president is or should be managing the economy to start with.

    That large numbers of people unquestioningly respond to such queries shows that those of us on the side of freedom have a really, really tough battle ahead of us. There are plenty of glaring signs that we live in a day of big government; it’s this kind of subtle stuff that shows just how deeply Americans accept it.

  6. Sam-

    That question could easily be fixed by changing it to something along the lines of “Do you approve of Bush’s economic policies?”

  7. I think people feel pessimistic because large segments of the popular media are talking the economy down for political reasons. The current unemployment rate is the same as in 1996 when Clinton ran for re-election. I don’t remember the same relentless drumbeat of negative news stories about the economy then.

    Economic news is always presented without any historical context.By long term historical standards we are at full employment. Only the freakishly low unemployment rates of the late 90’s makes the current situation look bad at all.

    Perhaps I’m to cynical but I think that if a Democrat was President we would see lots of stories about how good the economy was, all things considered.

  8. Shannon,

    Don’t you get Fox News? Things are mostly cheery in their universe.

  9. Shannon,
    The salient difference is the deficit. In 96 the deficit was shrinking so the future looked sound. In 04 the deficit is exploding. So while we continue to run up our AmEx (no spending limit) tab, we know that the bill is coming.

  10. I think it’s the general feeling that something funny is going on. Traditional unemployment numbers look OK, the stock market (except for the last week) has rebounded, GDP has been growing at 4% or better for three years, interest rates are low and housing is booming.

    On the other hand, the unemployment numbers don’t show the many folks working fulltime for half the wages they used to get, the tax breaks to the investor class pumped up the stock market and high tech hit a plateau three years ago, increasing productivity dramatically. The mountains of debt are onerous.

    The sum of it, to me, is that the system has been monkeyed with so much and it’s so globally intertwined that I’m not sure the traditional economic rules apply any more. If they do, we’re in for a fall. If they don’t, the labor force may be permanently screwed. I’m not happy with either scenario.

  11. Shannon Love,

    “Economic news is always presented without any historical context.”

    Most news is presented without any historical context.

    “By long term historical standards we are at full employment. Only the freakishly low unemployment rates of the late 90’s makes the current situation look bad at all.”

    So people have a different metric for judging the success of the U.S. economy; I don’t see that as problematic or strange; indeed, it seems to be very reasonable.

  12. The election process seems to set the stage for this. When the economy is bad (or good) either the challenger or the incumbent uses it to get votes. Thereafter, they own it. Money supply, interest rates and trade policies are just some of the tools they use to “manage” and take ownership.

    In the end, I think it’s a fair question.

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