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More Than Half Still Say U.S. Is in Recession or Depression

More Than Half Still Say U.S. Is in Recession or Depression

by Dennis Jacobe

PRINCETON, NJ -- More than half of Americans (55%) describe the U.S. economy as being in a recession or depression, even as the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) reports that "the economic recovery is proceeding at a moderate pace." Another 16% of Americans say the economy is "slowing down," and 27% believe it is growing.

Trend: Americans' Ratings of Current Direction of Economy

While most Americans seem to disagree with the FOMC's characterization of the economy, their current assessment is better than that of September 2008 -- during the height of the financial crisis -- when 69% said the economy was in a recession or depression. On the other hand, current attitudes are more downbeat, overall, than they were in early February 2008, when 45% considered the economy to be in either a recession or a depression. However, Americans are much more likely today to perceive the economy as growing rather than slowing down.

Democrats Give Better Ratings Than Republicans and Tea Party Supporters

Forty-two percent of Democrats say the economy is growing -- essentially the same as the 43% from that party who say the economy is in a recession or depression. Democrats are much more positive on the economy than their Republican counterparts, 68% of whom describe the economy as in recession or depression, while 14% say it is growing. Tea Party supporters' ratings are similar to Republicans', and independents' ratings are about midway between those from the two major parties.

Americans' Ratings of Current Direction of Economy, by Party ID and Tea Party Supporters, April 2011

Nearly One-Third of Upper-Income Americans Say Economy Is Growing

Fifty-two percent of upper-income Americans say the economy is in a recession or depression and 31% think it is growing. These ratings, though not good, are better than lower-income Americans' ratings: 65% of this group says the economy is in a recession or depression and 21% say it is growing.

Americans' Ratings of Current Direction of Economy, by Income, April 2011


Although economists announced that the recession ended in mid-2009, more than half of Americans still don't agree. These ratings are consistent with Gallup's mid-April findings that 47% of Americans rate the economy "poor" and 19.2% report being underemployed.

It also seems likely that most Americans would not agree with the FOMC's assessment of the current economic recovery. Nor does it seem likely that -- given surging gas and food prices -- most would agree with the Committee that "longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable and measures of underlying inflation are subdued."

Although the FOMC seems to perceive current economic conditions differently than most Americans, it does say it needs to "promote a stronger pace of economic recovery" by continuing its aggressive monetary policy, often referred to as "quantitative easing," through June. On the other hand, in the press conference after the FOMC's April meeting -- the first ever by a Fed chairman -- Ben Bernanke said that, "the trade-offs are getting less attractive at this point," meaning it is getting harder to aggressively add liquidity to stimulate stronger economic growth while avoiding inflation.

In another possible disconnect with monetary policymakers, many Americans may not see the trade-off Bernanke suggests between promoting a stronger economy and experiencing higher inflation. Right now, prices are soaring, yet the latest Gallup Daily tracking data show that 67% of Americans say the economy is "getting worse."

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 20-23, 2011, with a random sample of 1,013 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 for gender within 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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