PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are thinking in terms of years, not months, when pondering how much longer it will be before the U.S. economy starts to recover. The vast majority (67%) believe it will be at least two years before a recovery starts, and nearly half (46%) think it will be at least three years.
The findings are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Jan. 8-9. With a full third of Americans (34%) saying it will be four or more years before a recovery starts, the mean response is 4 ½ years -- putting the average predicted onset of recovery well into 2014.
"The poll finds about half of Americans -- regardless of party affiliation -- saying a president has "a great deal" of influence over national economic conditions."
Public opinion about the timeline for recovery is seemingly in conflict with recent economic reports suggesting the U.S. economy grew in the second half of 2009, possibly setting the stage for recovery this year. However, much of the current economic analysis is highly cautious, in part tempered by the continuing high rate of unemployment -- thus, perhaps, contributing to Americans' skepticism about a speedy return to business as usual. Americans' outlook for recovery today is similar to what Gallup found in July 2009.
Americans living in households earning $90,000 or more annually are more optimistic about when recovery will occur than are those in households with lower income levels; still, the majority of all income groups expect to wait at least two years before the economy starts to recover.
The extent to which the balance of power in Washington influences Americans' economic optimism is evident in the partisan responses. Democrats -- who generally have more confidence in the leadership of President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress -- are much more optimistic about an economic recovery in the near term than are independents or Republicans.
Much of the responsibility for economic recovery will be assigned -- fairly or unfairly -- to President Obama. Indeed, already more Americans disapprove than approve of the job he is doing on the economy.
In general, Americans do believe presidents' policies can influence the direction the economy takes. The poll finds about half of Americans -- regardless of party affiliation -- saying a president has "a great deal" of influence over national economic conditions. Another 35% say a president's policies affect the economy "a moderate amount," while 10% say they have little impact.
The American public seems braced for a long road to economic recovery. Not only do most Americans expect to wait two or more years for a recovery to start, but the majority continue to believe the economy is getting worse. While such pessimistic views could help Obama in terms of keeping the expectations bar low, now that he is entering his second year, Americans are likely to increasingly judge his performance on the economy by his own economic policies.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 2,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 8-9, 2010, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. 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 and cellular phones.
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.