A Tale of Three Economies

by Raksha Arora, Business and Economy Editor

Gallup Polls conducted in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain this spring* took an in-depth look at public opinion of the economic conditions in the three countries, and reveal some interesting contrasts.

Over the last year, Americans have been troubled by poor job growth, even as the economy has supposedly been in recovery; the Canadian economy has been similarly sluggish. The British public, on the other hand, has heard more good than bad economic news lately. The Labour Party in Britain has launched a media campaign lauding the country's economic success. In the words of Chancellor Gordon Brown, "Today Britain is working, with the lowest inflation for 20 years, the lowest unemployment for 29 years, the lowest mortgage rates for 40 years and the longest period of economic growth for 200 years." Gallup data reflect this increasing optimism in Great Britain, as well as relative uncertainty in the United States and Canada.

Current Economic Conditions

Americans' opinion on current economic conditions has been consistently less optimistic than public opinion in Britain and Canada. In early May, 29% of Americans described economic conditions in the country as good or excellent, compared with 46% of Canadians and 45% of Britons who said the same about economic conditions in their countries. Twenty-seven percent of Americans described current economic conditions in the country as poor; in stark contrast, only about 1 in 10 Britons (11%) and Canadians (10%) expressed this low level of confidence in their respective economies.

In Britain, estimations of the state of the economy have become significantly more positive over the past 15 months. In February 2003, 30% of Britons gave a good or excellent rating to the nation's economy; rising to 41% in June, dipping slightly in December (37%), and rising again to 45% in May. In the United States, only 22% rated the economy positively in February 2003, but positive estimations reached 37% by December of that year. Whereas ratings grew more positive in Great Britain after December, they grew more negative in the United States. Canadians' estimations followed a pattern similar to Americans', although Canadian ratings of the economy have returned to their levels of February 2003. 

The Shape of Things to Come

In each country, Gallup also asked survey respondents if they feel that economic conditions in their countries are getting better or getting worse. Subtracting the total negative responses (those saying "getting worse") from the total positive responses (those saying getting better) produces a net measure of sentiment on future economic conditions. These net percentages for the respective survey periods stand at -18 for Great Britain, -8 in the United States, and -9 in Canada.

Although Great Britain has the largest net pessimistic margin, British opinion regarding economic prospects has recovered somewhat over the last year and a half. In February 2003, 69% thought the economy was getting worse, compared with the current 51%. In both the United States and Canada, citizens were more optimistic than pessimistic about the direction of their country's economy in December 2003, although opinion has shifted to a net negative view in both countries since then. 

Bottom Line

Despite the Labour Party's posters showcasing Britain's economic miracle, and the most positive ratings of the British economy in a year, about half of Britons still view economic conditions in their country as getting worse. With interest rates on the rise and the IMF warning that the British housing market is overheated and could be in for a correction, these concerns are understandable.

Interestingly, this concern is mirrored in the United States and Canada, where about one in every two adults believes that economic conditions are getting worse. Public opinion on the economy is trending in different directions in these three countries, but Americans, Canadians, and Britons are not too optimistic about what the future holds.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-4, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 28-May 4, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 29-May 12, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

 

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