Americans are more pessimistic about the nation’s economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Barack Obama’s first two months in office, when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
Amid rising gas prices, stubborn unemployment and a cacophonous debate in Washington over the federal government’s ability to meet its future obligations, the poll presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.
Capturing what appears to be an abrupt change in attitude, the survey shows that the number of Americans who think the economy is getting worse has jumped 13 percentage points in just one month. Though there have been encouraging signs of renewed growth since last fall, many economists are having second thoughts, warning that the pace of expansion might not be fast enough to create significant numbers of new jobs.
The dour public mood is dragging down ratings for both parties in Congress and for Obama, the poll found.
After the first 100 days of divided government, and a new Republican leadership controlling the House of Representatives, 75 percent of respondents disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job.
Disapproval of Obama’s handling of the economy has never been broader — at 57 percent of Americans — a warning sign as he begins to set his sights on re-election in 2012. And a similar percentage disapprove of how Obama is handling the federal budget deficit, though more disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are.
Still, for all the talk from congressional Republicans and Obama of cutting the deficit as a way to improve the economy, only 29 percent of respondents said it would create more jobs. Twenty-seven percent said it would have no effect on the employment outlook, and 29 percent said it would cost jobs.
When it comes to cutting the deficit and the costs of the nation’s costliest entitlement programs, the poll found conflicting and sometimes contradictory views, with hints of encouragement and peril for both parties.
Obama has considerable support for his proposal to end tax cuts for those households earning $250,000 a year and more: 72 percent of respondents approved of doing so as a way to address the deficit.
And, in what he can take as a positive sign for his argument that the nation has a duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens, about three-quarters of Americans polled think the federal government has a responsibility to provide health care for the elderly, and 56 percent believe it has a similar duty to the poor.
“Keep people’s taxes and give them medical benefits,” Richard Sterling, an independent voter of Naugatuck, Conn., said in a follow-up interview.