The trouble with an "ownership society," from a consumer's point of view, is that you may end up owning assets the market doesn't value very highly -- or, at least, not as highly as it did when you bought the stuff. Thus, where worries about the stock market used to be strictly an upscale pastime, they've been distributed in a far more egalitarian fashion in recent times.
We find this reflected in the results of an ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted late last week and early this week. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they're "very worried" and another 39 percent "somewhat worried" about "the performance of the stock market." Just 9 percent said they're "not at all worried" about this. By comparison, 22 percent said they're very worried and 38 percent somewhat worried about "your own family's financial situation." The poll found 40 percent very worried and 39 percent very worried about "the direction of the nation's economy over the next few years."
If all this makes it sound like people are ready hunkering down for the long haul (rather than just anticipating some short-term austerities), another part of the poll suggests the same thing. Asked whether the economy is now "in a normal downturn that will correct itself before too long" or "has moved into serious long-term decline," 52 percent picked the latter description and 44 percent chose the former. (Two percent volunteered "neither," while 3 percent had no opinion.)
Finally, the survey established a landmark of sorts with a question that asked respondents to characterize the nation's economy these days as "excellent," "good," "not so good" or "poor." A grand total of zero percent picked "excellent." (A cheery 9 percent picked "good," while 34 percent said "not so good" and 57 percent said "poor.") Opinion polls can usually get a few percent of respondents to say almost anything, so it's extraordinary -- facts in the real world notwithstanding -- that this survey couldn't scrape up even one percent to say the economy is in excellent shape.