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CNN Poll: Most Americans have a dismal view of the US economy

<i>Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>US inflation reached a four-decade high of 8.5% in March and prices are expected to continue to rise for staples like bread
AFP via Getty Images
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
US inflation reached a four-decade high of 8.5% in March and prices are expected to continue to rise for staples like bread

By Jennifer Agiesta and Ariel Edwards-Levy, CNN

The US public’s view of the nation’s economy is the worst it’s been in a decade, a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS finds, with many Americans also saying they feel financial strain in their own lives.

That pessimism also reflects on President Joe Biden, whose ratings for handling the economy remain sharply negative. A majority of US adults say his policies have hurt the economy, and 8 in 10 say the government isn’t doing enough to combat inflation.

Only 23% rate economic conditions as even somewhat good, down from 37% in December and 54% last April. The last time public perception of the economy was this poor in CNN’s polling was November 2011, when 18% called economic conditions good.

Americans also say they are more likely to hear bad news than good news about the economy, by nearly a 4-to-1 margin: 89% say they’ve heard at least some bad news, compared with 23% who’ve heard at least some good news.

Americans remain generally dour about how things are going in the country overall, with just about one-third (32%) saying things in the country are going well, about the same as late last summer.

Although economic pessimism is most pronounced within the GOP, it spans party lines. A near universal 94% of Republicans rate current economic conditions in the US as poor, as do 81% of independents and 54% of Democrats. And across party lines, most Americans say they’ve heard little or no recent good news on the issue (88% among Republicans, 80% among independents, 61% among Democrats).

Biden gets low marks on the economy

The economy remains a notably weak spot for the President. Biden’s overall approval rating holds steady: 41% of Americans approve and 59% disapprove, effectively unchanged from CNN’s last poll, conducted in January and February. But his economic approval numbers continue to tick downward, with 34% now approving and 66% disapproving, compared with 37% approval and 62% disapproval earlier this year. Biden’s ratings have also continued to sink on the issue of helping the middle class (36% approve, down from 41% in February) and on immigration (34% approve, down from 40% last December).

Even within the Democratic Party, just 7 in 10 approve of Biden on the economy (71%) and helping the middle class (71%), considerably lower than the 86% of Democrats who approve of his performance overall. Fewer than half of Democrats say Biden has improved the nation’s economic standing (45%), down from 58% in December.

Overall, only 19% of Americans think Biden’s policies have improved economic conditions in the US, with 26% saying they’ve had no effect and 55% saying they’ve made conditions worse — a further devolution since December, when 45% said the President’s policies had made things worse.

By contrast, Biden’s ratings on handling the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while underwater — 46% approve, 54% disapprove — are better than his overall numbers. And a slim majority of 51% approves of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, up from a low of 45% amid the Omicron surge earlier this year.

The problem for Biden is that most Americans are much more likely to be concerned with the economy than Ukraine or Covid-19. Half of Americans call the economy the most important national issue (50%), up from 36% last November; the Russia-Ukraine war, the second-ranking issue, currently gets just 14%. One-tenth call immigration the top issue, while other subjects, including climate change, racial injustice and education, were all in the single digits. Only 5% call the Covid-19 pandemic the top issue, down from 20% last November. The poll was completed before Monday’s publication of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that affirmed the federal constitutional right to an abortion.

Americans are feeling economic strain

Americans are more positive about their own finances than they are about the economic situation nationally: 53% say they’re satisfied with their personal financial situation, down from 66% in 2016. Yet 41% say they’re worse off than they were a year ago, with just 23% saying their finances have improved in that time. Even among those who are satisfied with their current financial situation, only 35% say they’re better off now than they were a year ago.

With gas and food prices soaring, most Americans say economic conditions have led them to reduce nonessential spending (63%), change their grocery-buying habits (63%) and cut back significantly on driving (54%). A third say they’ve had difficulty finding affordable housing, rising to 42% among those in households making less than $50,000 annually, and 57% among those younger than 35.

Some of these hardships have become more widespread since last year. The share of Americans who say they’ve cut back on driving is up 11 points from December’s poll, with the share who say they’ve changed their grocery shopping habits rising 9 points, and the share who’ve had trouble finding affordable housing rising 7 points.

Those negative experiences run parallel to the largely pessimistic economic news Americans say they are hearing. Eighty-nine percent say they’ve heard a lot (50%) or some (39%) bad economic news lately, with just 11% saying they’ve heard not much (10%) or none at all (1%). By contrast, only 23% say they have heard even some recent good economic news, with half saying they haven’t heard much, and 27% that they’ve heard no good news at all.

Most Americans want to see more government action to address economic concerns. A majority say the government is doing too little to reduce inflation (81%, up 9 points since December) or fix the supply chain (73%), with about half (49%) saying it’s done too little to address student loan debt. By contrast, nearly half, 47%, say the government is doing the right amount on Covid, up 6 points since December, with the rest split on whether it’s doing too much or too little.

There is also a wide age divide over whether the government generally is doing enough to address student loan debt: Among all Americans younger than 35, 70% say the government is doing too little, dropping to 50% among those age 35 to 49, and 35% among those age 50 or older. By contrast, there’s little divide between college graduates and those without a degree.

The poll, like other recent surveys, shows Biden facing challenges with younger Americans, even within his own party. Among those younger than 45 who identify as Democrats, 80% approve of the way Biden is handling the presidency, compared with 90% among older Democrats. Eighty percent of Democrats age 45 and older approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, while just 58% of younger Democrats say the same. Younger Democrats are also about 24 points less likely to approve of Biden’s performance on the issue of helping the middle class. There’s less of a pronounced age divide within the party on Biden’s handling of immigration, the situation in Ukraine or the Covid pandemic.

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS from April 28-May 1 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults surveyed online or by phone after being recruited using probability-based methods. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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