WSJ poll: Americans highly pessimistic about economy, national direction

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The most fascinating part of this result might be in the WSJ/NORC poll sample. Nearly half of the respondents identify as or lean to Democrats — and yet 83% or respondents describe the economy negatively, and only a quarter of them believe that they can improve their standard of living over the next few years.

That’s quite the tableau for the midterms:

Americans are deeply pessimistic about the U.S. economy and view the nation as sharply divided over its most important values, according to a new Wall Street Journal-NORC Poll. …

Some 83% of respondents described the state of the economy as poor or not so good. More than one-third, or 35%, said they aren’t satisfied at all with their financial situation. That was the highest level of dissatisfaction since NORC began asking the question every few years starting in 1972 as part of the General Social Survey, though the poll’s 4-point margin of error means that new figures may not differ significantly from prior high and low points.

These results don’t show an incremental change, either. Pessimism has increased sharply over the past year, and a plurality says their situation is the worst since the Great Recession:

Just over one quarter of respondents, 27%, said they have a good chance of improving their standard of living—a 20-point drop from last year—while just under half of respondents, 46%, said they don’t.

The share of respondents who said their financial situation had gotten worse in the past few years was 38%. That marked the only time other than in the aftermath of the 2007-09 recession that more than three in 10 respondents said their pocketbooks were worse off, according to GSS data going back a half-century.

And now, let’s take a look at the sample composition in terms of its partisan split:

  • Democrats, net: 48%
    • Strong Dem: 21%
    • Not so strong Dem: 16%
    • Independent leaning Dem: 11%
  • Independents, no lean: 15%
  • Republicans, net: 37%
    • Independent leaning GOP: 10%
    • Not so strong GOP: 12%
    • Strong GOP: 15%

In other words, the pessimism isn’t attributable to nasty Republicans wishing the country ill for partisan advantage, although social-media trolls like to claim otherwise. The WSJ does not provide access to the crosstabs to get the demos on economic pessimism, but at these gaps, it’s hardly necessary. If 83% of respondents in a sample of this composition describe the economy as “not so good” or “poor,” it’s clearly a consensus that transcends partisan divisions. And when only 14% of these respondents claim to be “pretty well satisfied” with their “present financial condition,” it’s a political problem of massive proportions for whomever is in charge.

This result also looks grim for Joe Biden’s party in the midterms:

Again, this is from a sample where Democrats appear overrepresented, and … they seem very glum about their spending power. More than half worry about being able to afford groceries; six in ten worry about being able to fill their tanks. The only products/services that aren’t underwater in this calculation are child and elder care and prescription drugs, the latter of which Biden and Democrats keep trying to stoke outrage over the status quo. At the same time, they’re messaging about “incredible transitions” on gas and pretending that grocery price hikes and shortages don’t exist at all.

Clearly, though, their attempts to use Jedi mind tricks* as a distraction haven’t succeeded, not even with fellow Democrats. It’s impossible to distract people from the crises they experience on a daily basis. This electorate is about to show up angry, demoralized, and looking for new directions from top to bottom.

Note* – I’m not fond of the recent adoption of “gaslighting” to describe demagoguery. I figured I’d use a pop-culture reference that’s at least been created in the last 40 years instead.