A Mishmash of Economic Opinions

There’s nothing like a bad economy to foster a mishmash of economic thinking. Consider the results of some April surveys about the recession. In a Quinnipiac poll, 33 percent of respondents said they think the economy is “getting worse,” while 24 percent said it’s “getting better” and 42 percent said it’s “staying about the same.” (The rest were unsure.) An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, whose field dates overlapped with those of the Quinnipiac poll, added a more specific time frame and got quite different results: 38 percent of its respondents said the economy will get better “during the next 12 months,” vs. 30 percent saying it’ll get worse and another 30 percent saying it’ll stay about the same.

Then again, a Diageo/Hotline poll (fielded on exactly the same days as the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey) found a majority of respondents saying they think the recession will last either two to four years (38 percent) or more than four years (19 percent).

People are probably better at saying how they feel about things right now than they are at giving economic forecasts. In that regard, a pairing of Associated Press/GfK polls is revealing as it shows little change from February to April in the way people feel about their ability to make financial headway “these days.” In the earlier poll, 34 percent of respondents said it was “very difficult” and 35 percent “somewhat difficult” for them and their family “to get ahead financially these days.” In April, 30 percent said “very difficult” and 36 percent “somewhat difficult.”

The AP/GfK polling also gives an indication of the hierarchy of people’s financial fears as it asked how much they worry about some things. In the April survey, the highest “worry a lot” vote (41 percent) went to “seeing the value of your stocks and retirement investments drop,” putting this ahead of “facing major unexpected medical expenses” (38 percent). Slightly fewer said they worry a lot about “being unable to pay your bills” (34 percent), “having enough money to send your children to college” (33 percent) or “being unable to keep up with your mortgage and credit-card payments” (28 percent). Even though one-fifth of respondents said it doesn’t apply to them (presumably because they aren’t in the workforce), 27 percent said they worry a lot about “losing your job.”