December 29, 2010

An Optimism Gap

35%

Only about a third of Americans in a fall survey expected better economic conditions a year hence. By contrast, in the midst of the Great Depression, and with another downturn in the offing, half of Americans still expected general business conditions to improve over the next six months.

Despite their far higher and longer-lasting record of unemployment, Depression-era Americans remained hopeful for the future. Half (50%) expected general business conditions to improve over the next six months, while only 29% expected a worsening. And fully 60% thought that opportunities for getting ahead were better (45%) or at least as good (15%) as in their father’s day. Today’s public is far gloomier about the economic outlook: Only 35% in an October Pew Research Center survey expected better economic conditions by October 2011, while 16% expected a still weaker economy. The Reagan-era recession found the public somewhat more hopeful than at present, but less optimistic than in the 1930s. In November 1982, with unemployment at its recession peak of nearly 11%, Americans believed their personal financial situation would improve over the next year by a 41%-to-22% margin. However, the most striking difference between the 1930s and the present day is that, by the standards of today’s political parlance, average Americans of the mid-1930s revealed downright “socialistic” tendencies in many of their views about the proper role of government. Read More