Washington — Stocks are near all-time highs. Growth was surprisingly strong last year. And once-hot inflation has begun to cool. But so far, American adults feel only slightly better about the economy.
a new survey The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 35% of American adults consider the national economy good. That’s an increase from the 30% who said it late last year and the 24% who said it a year ago. While 65% still consider the economy poor, that is also an improvement from a year ago, when 76% rated it poor.
Voter confidence in the economy could be a critical factor in this year’s presidential election, as it is consistently seen as a priority issue. Recent data on the economy has shown that growth accelerated last year even as inflation moved back closer to the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, proving wrong a host of Wall Street and academic economists who said a recession It would be a consequence of efforts to reduce inflation.
President Joe Biden and his advisers have highlighted economic positives as consumer confidence has rebounded. Biden also openly contrasts with former President Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner. Trump supporters look back on his administration with pride at how the economy fared, but his tenure was marred by job losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
Evidence of a stronger economy has yet to translate into greater support for Biden. The new poll puts his approval rating at 38%, which is about the level it has maintained for most of the past two years. Biden’s approval rating for handling the economy is similar, at 35%.
Respondents often expressed their views on the economy through a personal lens. Some judged him based on his grocery bills and prices at the gas pump. Others evaluated the economy based on the appreciation of their investments. Housing prices mattered, as did job prospects for their adult children and the upward trajectory of the federal debt.
Molly Kapsner, 58, lives on a farm in Wisconsin and believes the economy is doing “pretty well” because she has three children who will finish college this year and all have job options. She voted for Biden in 2020 and plans to do so again.
“He’s got a lot going on right now and he’s doing pretty well,” she said. “He’s just putting his head down and doing his job and not trying to create a circus in our country.”
David Veksler, who voted for Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgenson in 2020, said he is concerned about rising federal debt. The 43-year-old software engineering manager from Denver said debt will hurt long-term growth, even if his investments are doing well now.
“I think he’s similar to his predecessors in terms of fueling unsustainable deficits,” Veksler said of Biden. “I’m as negative about him as I was about Trump.”
Harry Broadnax, a 62-year-old retiree, said he is thinking more about the economy in relation to the increase in immigrants illegally crossing the southern border of the United States. He believes his presence is diverting financial resources from American citizens.
“I would like to see them block the border like Trump wanted,” said Broadnax, who is from North Carolina, adding for emphasis: “I’m a Democrat.”
Broadnax doesn’t see herself voting for Biden or Trump, whose criminal charges concern her.
The Biden administration has tried to focus more on the big numbers used to evaluate the overall economy, making its arguments through hard data.
Lael Brainard, director of the White House National Economic Council, told a group of reporters last week that economic skeptics had overlooked how Biden’s policies boosted the labor market and repaired supply chains torn apart by the crisis. pandemic.
“The big mistake here was not understanding to what extent, by returning to the workforce, by addressing supply chains that were completely broken, those inflationary pressures would subside,” he said.
Trump has said the economy is “fragile” and “the fumes are running out of what we did.” The Republican front-runner has said on social media that stocks are rising because he is likely to return to the White House. That claim ignores the influence of the Federal Reserve, as well as the fact that average annual growth has been higher under the Biden administration so far than under Trump.
There remains a political divide in the way people think about the economy. As a result, there could be a limit to how much Biden’s approval numbers can rise even if the economy continues to prosper as it did last year.
Democrats remain much more likely than Republicans to describe the economy as good, between 58% and 15%. Still, opinions have improved at least slightly since the same time last year, when 41% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans rated the economy as good.
Sixty-five percent of Democrats, but only 7% of Republicans, say they approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, both virtually unchanged from late last year.
However, the survey showed a brighter outlook for the economy in some key demographic groups of voters. Since a year ago, a disproportionate increase in sentiment has come from college graduates and older adults, two groups that tend to vote at higher rates. There is also the possibility that voters care more about the personalities of the Democratic and Republican candidates than about the state of the economy.
Deborah Shields, 70, who works in direct sales, said she has noticed an improvement in the economy as her investments have improved. However, she said her opposition to Trump will determine her vote in November.
“I would never, ever vote for Trump,” said Shields, who lives in Orlando, Florida. “He is a megalomaniac.”
Richard Tunnell, a disabled Air Force veteran, voted for Trump in 2020 and would do so again if the former president appears on the ballot. The 30-year-old from Huntsville, Texas, is a resounding “no” to Biden.
“He’s just a puppet,” Tunnell said. “They’ll throw out people like Trump who don’t give a damn, but they’ll put in people like Biden who they can pull strings and manipulate.”
The survey of 1,152 adults was conducted Jan. 25-29, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.