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Gallup Inc.

12/02/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 12/02/2020 03:28

Economic Views Remain Negative, but Slightly Less So

Story Highlights

  • Gallup Economic Confidence Index inches up to -1, the highest since March
  • Majority, however, still say economic conditions are getting worse
  • The coronavirus remains top U.S. problem, while economy ties for fourth

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. consumer views of the nation's economy became a bit less negative in November, with the Gallup Economic Confidence Index rising to -1 from -4 in October.

The index, which had been positive throughout President Donald Trump's term until March, plunged to -33 in late April amid widespread business and school closures across the country at the start of the pandemic. It has since been improving gradually and is now back to the level seen just before the 2016 election.

Line graph. Monthly trend from late October/early November 2016 to November 2020 in the Gallup Economic Confidence Index. The index was at -1 in November 2016 before rising to +13 after the election and remaining positive until late April 2020, when it plunged to -33. After gradually rising in most months since April, the index is now back to -1.

Each month, Gallup asks Americans whether they believe current economic conditions are excellent, good, only fair or poor, and then whether the economy is getting better or getting worse. Their combined answers are used to create the Gallup Economic Confidence Index, which has a theoretical range of +100 (if all respondents say the economy is excellent or good and that it is getting better) to -100 (if all say it is poor and getting worse). The observed range over the duration of the index since 1992 has been from a low of -72 in October 2008 to a high of +56 in January 2000.

This month's improvement stems from a decline in the percentage of Americans describing current conditions as 'poor,' which slipped to 23% from 29% in late September/early October. This marks the latest improvement in that negative sentiment from the 2020 high point of 43% recorded in April, near the start of the pandemic.

Line graph. Monthly trend since January 2019 in percentage of Americans rating current economic conditions as poor. The figure ranged from 9% to 14% in the year before the pandemic, rose to 43% in April 2020 and has since trended back down to 23% in November.

The latest results are based on a Gallup poll conducted Nov. 5-19. This followed the U.S. election and encompassed the Nov. 6 Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report showing unemployment had declined another percentage point to 6.9%, although with a slowing of monthly job gains amid rising coronavirus cases. It also spanned a period of record highs in the stock market, starting Nov. 9 after Pfizer's announcement that its COVID-19 vaccine appears to be highly effective.

Before this year, the percentage of Americans rating the economy as poor had not been in the 40% range since 2012, when Americans' views of the economy were still recovering from the even more deeply negative perceptions recorded during the 2007-2009 recession. In that period, the 'poor' rating topped out at 73%, in October 2008.

Americans' Economic Outlook Remains Negative

There was no improvement in the past month in Americans' outlook for the economy. Forty percent now say it is getting better, similar to the 42% in September/October, while the majority, 55%, still say it is getting worse.

Again, today's sentiment represents an improvement from the height of Americans' concern in April amid the unprecedented shutdown of much of the U.S. economy, but it is still a reversal of the positive outlook Gallup found earlier in the year.

Line graph. Monthly trend since January 2019 in Americans' views of whether the economy is getting better or getting worse. After the majority held the positive view during much of 2019, rising to 61% in February 2020, the percentage plunged to 22% in April. It has since improved to 40% in November.

Coronavirus Remains Top Problem, While Economy Ties for Fourth

Despite Americans' doubts about the current and future economic climate, relatively few (6%) name the economy per se when asked what they consider the most important issue facing the nation; just 10% altogether name one of several economic issues, including unemployment.

This has been the pattern throughout the pandemic, as the coronavirus itself has garnered top mentions, along with concerns about government leadership. The coronavirus currently leads with 28% of all mentions, similar to the 25% to 30% seen in September and October. Mentions of government leadership (encompassing criticism of Trump, the Democrats in Congress, and partisan gridlock generally) total 22% in the current poll, consistent with the level seen most of this year.

Race relations spiked as a concern in late May/early June after public outcry over the death of George Floyd, and, at 10%, remains higher today than it was before that incident of an unarmed black man being killed during an encounter with police.

The economy and 'unifying the country' round out the top five ranked problems, each cited by 6%.

Republicans (9%) and independents (7%) are a bit more likely than Democrats (3%) to identify the economy as the top problem, but bigger differences are seen with respect to naming the coronavirus and government.

  • Nearly half of Democrats (45%) cite the coronavirus as the nation's most important problem, compared with 27% of independents and 14% of Republicans.

  • Republicans (28%) are more likely than Democrats (18%) to name government as the top problem.

Bottom Line

Americans' views of the U.S. economy continue to become less negative, as much of the economy has reopened after this spring's shutdowns and the employment situation gradually improves. Yet, this is more at the margins of opinion than overall, because the majority still call the economy 'poor' or 'only fair,' rather than 'excellent' or even 'good.' Further, with no economic stimulus plan in the works at the time of the poll and widespread distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine still months away, the majority continue to believe economic conditions are worsening rather than improving.

View complete question responses and trends (PDF download).

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