Just 25 percent of likely voters expect to be better off financially by November 2012, according to a poll released today by The Hill — and one in three actually expect to be worse off. Perhaps even more tellingly, 65 percent said they think the country is on the wrong track. A plurality — 36 percent — also said they have less pride in America now than they did four years ago.
The poll is anything but good news for President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, which will likely hinge heavily on the economy.
But it’s not particularly surprising, given the chronically high unemployment rate and the even-more-dismal-than-expected May jobs report — the worst in eight months. (Although, to be fair, the poll was conducted last Thursday before the release of the May jobs outlook.)
In the last month, unemployment rose from 9 percent to 9.1 percent. A Senate Budget Committee press release estimates underemployment to be as high as 16.1 percent. History tells us incumbents have a hard time overcoming these kinds of disastrous statistics, as this handy chart from the Democratic group Third Way makes clear (via The Fix):
Of course, the pessimism wasn’t quite as pronounced among liberals: 41 percent actually said they expect to be better off financially by next fall. The poll report also points out that just 6 percent of blacks said they believe they will be worse off in one year, while 46 percent expect their situation to be better.
The poll’s political implications are OK by me — I don’t feel badly for what the economy might cost Obama in 2012. But overall, these stats are still highly discouraging, not least because they indicate individuals continue to suffer from depressed mental attitudes about the economy — attitudes that presumably stem from experienced or observed hardship.
But they’re discouraging from another vantage point, too: They highlight just how politicized economic matters have become. That liberal and conservative expectations of individual financial status are so inverse of each other suggests government policy has become a far more potent factor in the economy than should be the case in a capitalist country. That’s really nothing new even here in the United States, but it is a reminder of the deeper philosophical divide between those who think government spending can actually stimulate the economy (perhaps because they experience the immediate — but ultimately unsustainable — benefits of government handouts) and those who accept the reality that it doesn’t.
In other words, it’s depressing so few people expect an improved financial outlook a little more than a year from now, but it’s almost more depressing that some do expect to see some improvement, when all signs suggest this administration still hasn’t learned the lessons failed stimulus programs have to teach.
So, in the interest of putting a positive spin on what is a decidedly dejecting poll, I’m going to chalk up the optimism to good old-fashioned confidence in individual ability and a determined work ethic — and credit to the pessimism a realistic understanding of the effects of the policies of this administration.