In U.S., 6 in 10 Do Not Expect Economy to Improve Soon

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Eight in 10 say U.S. is in recession

PRINCETON, NJ -- Three in four Americans assess the U.S. economy as no better than a year ago, with 35% saying it is about the same and 42% saying it is worse. Looking ahead to a year from now, Americans remain largely pessimistic, with 61% expecting economic conditions to be similar to now, or worse.

Do you think the U.S. economy is fully recovered, better than it was a year ago but not fully recovered, about the same as a year ago, or worse than it was a year ago? (Thinking about one year from now, do you think the U.S. economy will be ... ?) September 2011 results

These results are based on a Sept. 15-18 USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted at a time when unemployment remains high and economic growth continues to be sluggish.

Gallup has asked Americans to predict the course of the economy a year ahead in the late summer or early fall of 2009, 2010, and 2011. Americans were generally optimistic about improvement in 2009 -- with 65% believing the economy would be better, if not fully recovered, a year out. Each succeeding year, Americans have become less likely to expect conditions to improve, with 37% in 2011 believing the economy will be better a year from now.

Expectations for Economy One Year From Now, 2009-2011 Gallup Polls

These views appear to be colored by politics. Democrats are most likely among key subgroups to believe the economy will improve in the next year, with 59% saying so. That compares with 28% of Republicans and 27% of independents. More Republicans and independents expect the economy not to change in the next year than to get worse.

Expectations for Economy One Year From Now, by Political Party, September 2011

Optimism about an economic recovery has declined at least marginally among all party groups in each of the last three years. In 2009, at least half of all three party groups thought the economy would improve in the year ahead.

Expectations Economy Will Get Better One Year From Now, 2009-2011, by Political Party

Public Continues to Believe the U.S. Economy Is in Recession

Although the last U.S. recession officially ended in 2009, the poll finds 80% of Americans believing the economy is currently in a recession, similar to what Gallup measured in each of the previous three years.

1991-2011 Trend: Do you think the economy is now in a recession, or not?

Gallup has asked this question periodically over the years, and has not found as sustained a belief the country was in a recession as it has in recent years. In 1991-1992, roughly 8 in 10 Americans also believed the U.S. was in a recession. Officially, the U.S. was in a recession during part of 1991. But by late 1993, less than half thought the U.S. was in a recession, and by 1994, only about a third did so.


The lack of consistent economic progress since 2009 has dashed Americans' optimism that things will get better in the near future. Just over a third of Americans expect the economy to be better a year from now. With the economy and unemployment firmly atop Americans' list of the most important problem facing the United States, both the health of the overall economy and Americans' perceptions of its health have obvious implications for President Obama as he seeks re-election next year. His jobs plan, which Americans generally support, is perhaps his most important step in trying to improve the economy. To be successful, it must not only move the needle on official economic statistics, but also re-instill confidence in Americans that the economy is getting better and will continue to do so.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 15-18, 2011, with a random sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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