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Republican Optimism Drives Record-High Job Market Perceptions

Republican Optimism Drives Record-High Job Market Perceptions
by Megan Brenan

Story Highlights

  • Record-high 59% of Americans view U.S. job market positively
  • 70% of Republicans say it is a good time to find a quality job
  • 47% of Democrats say the same

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With the U.S. unemployment rate sinking to its lowest point in 17 years, 59% of Americans think it is a good time to find a quality job. This is the highest percentage to say so since Gallup started asking the question in 2001. Yet, this increase in optimism may have more to do with partisan politics than economic reality. Republicans, who are substantially more optimistic than Democrats about the job market, are largely behind most of the increase.

Graph 1

For the past 17 years, Gallup has asked U.S. adults whether it is a good time or a bad time to find a quality job. Historically, Americans' perceptions of the job market have tracked closely with the monthly unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When the unemployment rate is low, consensus that it is a good time to find a quality job rises -- and conversely, when the unemployment rate is high, views of the job market worsen.

Before this year, the highest reading in Gallup's "quality job" trend was 48% in January 2007, when the unemployment rate was 4.6%. By fall 2009, when the unemployment rate climbed to 10% for the first time in over two decades, the percentage of Americans saying it was a good time to find a quality job plummeted to 10%. It took until early 2015, when unemployment was back down around 5.5%, for optimism about the job market to rebound to the 40% mark.

Earlier this year, after Donald Trump took office, positivity about jobs among all U.S. adults surged to 54% (from 42% one month before the presidential election) and continued to rise to its current 59% record high as unemployment hit 4.3% in July. This latest monthly reading is from a Gallup poll conducted Aug. 2-6.

Republican Job Market Optimism Surges Following Election

Currently, 70% of Republicans say it is a good time to find a quality job. This is up sharply from 35% in November, just after Trump's victory, with the bulk of the gains occurring after his inauguration. This Republican surge is far beyond what might have been predicted given historical trends in times of only modest improvements in the unemployment rate -- but the election of Trump is clearly a significant driver.

Graph 2

For their part, Democrats have become somewhat less sanguine about the jobs picture since Trump was elected, but their reaction has been far more measured than that of Republicans. Currently, 47% of Democrats say it is a good time to find a quality job, down slightly from 53% in November. This modest decrease likely is tempered by the fact that the unemployment rate is so low.

Looking back to the first six months of Barack Obama's presidency, the unemployment rate was twice what it is now (and still rising), and optimism about finding a quality job hovered around 10%. When George W. Bush left the White House, Democrats' optimism about the job market did not change significantly, as it has this year among Republicans. In 2009, the soaring unemployment rate kept Democrats pessimistic.

Bottom Line

Partisans who identify with the incumbent president's party typically hold more favorable views than those of the opposing party concerning the economy and other national metrics. Politics certainly can bleed into all aspects of life, and recent findings from Gallup's Economic Confidence Index, although not a political measure, provide historical evidence of this.

In this case, heightened political polarization likely contributes to outsized levels of optimism about the job market among Republicans. Using history as a guide, a falling unemployment rate would naturally give rise to increasingly widespread positive perceptions of the job market. But the 17-percentage-point jump from October 2016 to August 2017 among all adults, along with only a minimal drop in the unemployment rate (from 4.8% in October to 4.3% in July), is unprecedented.

At this point of sharp division in the U.S., Republicans' opinions about the state of the economy seem to be shaped more by their party affiliation than by their assessment of economic indicators. Although this is also true of Democrats, it is less pronounced so far.

To the extent that Americans' views of the job market do tend to follow broad changes in the official unemployment rate, it is important to note that this measure itself is not comprehensive. The unemployment rate doesn't take into account the 5.3 million underemployed (those who would like to work more hours or are working in jobs that are below their skill level) or the 536,000 discouraged workers (those who have been unable to find work and have stopped looking). Considering these workers and slow wage growth, the jobs picture may not be quite as strong as the current 4.3% unemployment rate -- albeit a post-recession low -- indicates. Gallup's underemployment rate stood at 12.5% in July.

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Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Aug. 2-6, 2017, with a random sample of 1,017 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, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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