March 28, 2012
3/28: Despite Increased Economic Optimism, Americans Still Feel Pinch…Gas Prices a Factor
More Americans have a brighter outlook about the future of the U.S. economy. According to this national McClatchy-Marist Poll, 49% of U.S. residents say the worst of the country’s economic woes are behind us while 45% report there is more bad news ahead. Six percent are unsure. The proportion of residents who believe the nation’s tough economic times are over is the highest since January of 2011 when a majority — 54% — thought the country had turned the economic corner.
These latest findings are in contrast to McClatchy-Marist’s November survey when 53% of Americans reported that, when thinking about the future of the U.S. economy, the worst was still to come. 41%, at that time, said the worst was behind us, and 5% were unsure.
“A growing number of Americans believe the economy is back on track,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “But, continued pain at the pump threatens to derail this optimism.”
And, while many Americans still view the nation as in a recession, fewer have this perception. In fact, the proportion who currently reports the country is in a recession — 66% — is the lowest in four years. Three in ten U.S. adults — 30% — now believe the nation is not in a recession, and 4% are unsure.
When McClatchy-Marist last reported this question in November, 73% of residents said America was in a recession, 25% believed the opposite was true, and 3%, at that time, were unsure.
Rising Gas Prices Strap Americans…Plenty of Blame to Go Around
What is the overall impact of the higher cost of gas on Americans’ wallets? 77% of U.S. adults say rising gas prices have put at least a moderate amount of strain on their family’s budget. Included here are 37% who say they have experienced a great deal of strain and 40% who have felt a moderate pinch at the pump. 12% report the increased cost has not had much of a strain on their family finances, and 10% say the prices have had no strain at all.
When Marist last reported this question in April of 2008, 56% of Americans said higher gas prices put a great deal of strain on their finances while 26% thought it added a moderate amount of stress on their family budgets.
As gas prices rise, there’s little consensus about the cause of the hike. 34% point a finger at the turmoil in the Middle East followed closely by 31% who blame the U.S. oil companies. 17% say President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress are responsible while just 7% put the onus on the Republicans in Congress. Four percent report state and local taxes are at fault, and 7% are unsure.
When McClatchy-Marist last reported this question in April 2011, 36% blamed the upset in the Middle East, 34% said the oil companies were at the root of the problem, and 11% thought the president and Congressional Democrats were at fault. Seven percent pointed a finger at the Republicans in Congress, and 3% reported state and local taxes were responsible. 10%, at the time, were unsure.
Higher gas prices impact Americans’ daily routine. A majority — 53% — say they have changed their driving habits due to the price of gas while 46% have not, and 1% is unsure.
And, U.S. residents see no relief in sight. In fact, Americans expect the cost of a gallon of gas in their neighborhood to average $4.38 a gallon by Memorial Day.
The higher cost of gas isn’t the only factor which has prompted Americans to tighten their belts.
- Higher food costs have caused a great deal of strain for 20% of Americans. 47% have felt a moderate amount of financial burden while 18% have experienced little strain. 15% have undergone no added financial difficulty. In 2008, 25% reported a substantial strain due to rising food costs while 43% experienced a moderate deal of strain.
- Affording health care has also been problematic for many. The increased cost has created a great deal of financial burden for 19% while an additional 40% have felt a moderate amount of burden. 14%, though, have not experienced a lot of strain, and 27% have undergone no financial stress at all. In 2008, 23% of Americans experienced a great deal of financial stress due to increased health care costs while 29% had a moderate amount of additional strain.
- When it comes to the added financial burden caused by the higher cost of a mortgage or rent, 12% have experienced a great deal of financial strain, 28% have felt moderate stress while 17% and 43%, respectively, have undergone very little or none at all. Four years ago, 15% of U.S. residents said increased mortgage or rent payments added a lot to their financial strain while 23% reported it caused some concern.
There has been an increase in the proportion of Americans who believe their overall, personal financial picture in the next year will improve. 32% have this view while 14% say it will get worse. A majority — 55% — reports there will be no difference in their family finances.
In McClatchy-Marist’s November survey, 22% thought their money matters would improve, 19% reported they would get worse, and 59% said their finances would remain about the same.