More: 15 percent
Less: 15 percent
About the same: 69 percent
No opinion/Don't know: 1 percent
The poll was conducted April 12 and April 14 among 500 Americans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
So let's get this straight. Investors in the stock market seem split from day to day as to invest or not invest; average citizens seem closely divided as to whether their own finances have improved or not; and there is a complete dead-even split decision among Americans on whether they will live it up this summer by traveling more or play it more austere by staying home or vacationing nearby. All of this constitutes a pattern not just emerging but already becoming predictive.
Apparently, the recent improving economic news isn't enough to return public sentiment to where it was in the roaring 1990s. At the same time, the threats of interest-rate hikes and possible terrorism strikes at home, combined with the smoldering troubles in Iraq, haven't persuaded Americans to throw in the towel on economic recovery. In fact, the most recent InsiderAdvantage survey showed respondents feeling better (by a few percentage points) about their own finances than they did a month earlier.
It's been a long time since we have seen public opinion so evenly divided on everything from the economy to the presidential race and even issues as personal as where and when to vacation. But this much is for sure: Don't look for this even split on so many issues to become a permanent feature of the national landscape. Americans are known for having strong opinions on virtually any subject. Our times are rare in polling because they seem to lack a critical mass of opinion that might guide government and other leaders to make more definitive public policy.
Based on the raw data, it's hard to understand why Americans don't feel better about today's economy. New jobs are being created at a newly brisk rate, jobless claims have dropped, and Wall Street looks robust. Many economists believe that a reasonable adjustment in interest rates by the Fed would actually serve to sustain the economic recovery for a longer period of time.
All that aside, politicians and the investment community had best be on their collective toes. When this much relatively good economic news results only in a continued split opinion among the public on its own economic circumstances, anything can happen. One is forced to wonder what miracle must take place to persuade most people that we live in prosperous times. And more ominously, what problem or event could send the public tumbling back to its more negative views of recent years?
I find it hard to believe that between now and November we won't see some sort of shift of these opinions, one way or the other.