PRINCETON, NJ -- Since March, the percentage of Americans largely ruling out the possibility of an economic depression in the next two years has shrunk from 40% to 25%, while the percentage saying it is "very likely" has grown from 23% to 35%. Although Americans who predict the worst for the economy remain in the minority, another 39% think a depression is "somewhat likely" to occur.
Even if they don't think a true economic depression -- defined for respondents as a particularly severe recession lasting several years -- is very likely, the majority of Americans consider the current economic situation in the United States to be the "biggest economic crisis" the country has faced in their lifetimes. Sixty percent hold this view, while another 16% call it a crisis, but not the worst in their lifetimes.
Americans' generally bleak economic outlook is borne out in their prediction that it will be much more than another year or two before the economy starts to recover. The majority believe it will take three or more years for that to happen, with the average prediction falling at five years.
Generational Differences in Perspective
One's assessment of how bad the economy is depends in part on whether one was alive during the Great Depression. Solid majorities of adults in the 18 to 34 and 35 to 64 age brackets perceive the current economy to be the worst of their lifetimes. By contrast, half of Americans 65 and older (those old enough to have lived between 1929 and the early 1940s) do not.
In spite of being less likely than younger adults to perceive the current economy as the worst in their lifetimes, U.S. seniors are more likely than younger Americans to believe the United States could soon face another depression.
Prior to 2008, the Great Depression had seemingly become a curiosity of American history, particularly for young and middle-aged adults who didn't live though it. Now, the idea that the country could slip into a depression lasting several years has expanded to a majority of Americans, with more than a third considering it very possible. Seniors, many of whom experienced the ravages of depression economics firsthand, are the most likely today to believe a depression is in the cards.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 12-14, 2008. 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.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
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.