Americans See Nation on Wrong Track as Own Goals Closer

Americans sense that their lives are getting better at home and at work. It’s when they tune into the news that they grow increasingly uneasy.

Fifty-five percent of people say they are moving closer to realizing their hopes for their own careers and finances, yet only 26 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, according to a Bloomberg National Poll.

The discontent places a further burden on Democratic congressional candidates, who already are fighting a historical trend in which the president’s party usually loses seats in midterm elections. While Americans say their own finances are improving, they aren’t giving President Barack Obama credit.

“It’s as though Americans are living in an increasingly comfortable bubble, watching a world that appears to be increasingly troublesome,” said J. Ann Selzer, co-founder of Selzer & Co., which conducted the June 6-9 poll for Bloomberg.

The poll portrays a public that largely expects little change in the economy in the next year -- a plurality of 45 percent say its overall strength will be about the same -- though is more confident in its own prospects.

The number of Americans who say their personal situation is improving is up 5 percentage points from a year ago, while those saying the country is headed in the right direction is down 6 points from the June 2013 poll.

‘Gone Wrong’

Poll respondent Rob Noteboom says he feels “incredibly fortunate” with a secure job that pays enough to save for retirement and send his children to college. Still, he’s frustrated by the unwillingness of political leaders to tackle issues such as school shootings, Social Security finances and income inequality.

“Something’s gone wrong,” said Noteboom, 50, a high school social studies teacher in Kirkland, Washington, and a political independent. “All we do is argue. It really seems like we’re not getting anywhere.”

The public mood is damaging Obama. Fifty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of the job he’s doing “making people like me feel more economically secure,” up from 52 percent three months ago. Respondents by 51 percent to 44 percent disapprove of his performance in “fighting for the middle class.”

Five years into a plodding economic recovery, the U.S. last month finally regained the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession, the worst slump since the Great Depression.

Though the stock market has soared to new heights, with the benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500 Index up 20 percent over the past 12 months as of yesterday, workers’ wages have risen only modestly from a year ago.

Nine Measures

On nine measures of people’s expectations for their personal financial circumstances -- including job security, housing values and household income -- pluralities or majorities of poll respondents anticipate their situation will be about the same a year from now. On seven of the gauges, the remainder is more optimistic than pessimistic.

Asked about expectations of their personal financial security a year from now, 49 percent responded that things would be about the same, 33 percent better and 10 percent worse, an improvement from the last time the question was asked.

Seven measures of confidence in the U.S. economy present a more mixed picture. Pluralities anticipate the strength of the economy, job growth and conditions for business starts to remain steady over the next year. A 39 percent plurality believes the nation’s housing market will continue to strengthen.

Still, a 42 percent plurality expects U.S. global economic standing to decline over the next year. Majorities say the national debt and health-care costs will worsen.

Partisan Divide

After six years with jobs and wages at the center of political combat, there is a sharp partisan divide in perceptions of the economy and personal financial security. Party identity trumps even income and education levels in shaping attitudes toward well-being.

Fifty-eight percent of Republicans say none of the seven measures of national economic conditions will improve over the next year compared with 19 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents.

Assessing their own personal financial situation, 49 percent of Republicans don’t expect any of the nine measures to get better compared with 28 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents.

Seeing Downside

Even when it comes to predicting what will happen to the market value of their own home over the next year, Republicans are more pessimistic: 19 percent expect a decline compared with 7 percent of Democrats and 13 percent of independents.

Selzer said there is very little difference in the incomes of Democrats and Republicans in the poll.

“We have to conclude respondents invoke their partisanship in answering questions about their personal economic well-being,” Selzer said. “That can and likely will affect the way politicians campaign. It is to Republicans’ advantage, politically, for people to see the downside, blaming Obama.”

The telephone poll by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, surveyed 1,005 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.