Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Heading into midterms, Americans still as bummed out as they were in 2012, 2010

unemployment, housing, national mood today compared with 2012, 2010

With Election Day fast approaching, Americans are feeling somewhat better this year about the national economy than they were the past two election cycles — a sentiment borne out by improvements in several key indicators. But by many other measures, their collective mood hasn’t really improved.

Fact Tank dug through the Pew Research Center survey archives to compare public sentiment about the economy and elected leaders today with the same metrics at comparable periods before the federal elections of 2012 and 2010. Here’s a rundown of what we learned:

  • More people are feeling positively about the U.S. economy, though that isn’t saying much. In the most recent Pew Research Center poll from earlier this month, 21% described the economy as “excellent” or “good,” well ahead of sentiment in October 2010 (8%) and September 2012 (13%). Not only has unemployment fallen from 9.5% in September 2010 (the last reading before Election Day) to 5.9% last month, but the “underemployment rate” — an alternate measure that includes involuntary part-timers and people who’d like a job but aren’t actively looking for one — was down to 11.8%, versus 16.8% four years ago. Stocks are near record highs, and housing prices nationally are back to their 2008 levels. All that is significant, given that — as in 2010 and 2012 — the economy was the most important voting issue identified by Americans.
  • But even as the economy has improved, people doubt that it will continue doing so. Only 27% of people in the most recent Pew Research poll said they expect economic conditions to be better a year from now, down from 43% in 2012 and 35% in 2010.
  • Overall, Americans are just about as dissatisfied with the direction of the country as they have been the past two elections. Nearly two-thirds of adults (65%) say they’re dissatisfied, close to the levels in 2010 and 2012.
  • Congress is even less popular this year than before. In July, when we asked the question, 69% of Americans said they had an unfavorable opinion of Congress, compared with 65% in 2012 and 56% in 2010. Nonetheless, close to half of registered voters (48%) said this month that they’d like to see their own representative win a new term — nearly unchanged from the last two election periods. However, the share saying their representative shouldn’t be re-elected has steadily risen.
  • After sitting at 50% during summer 2012 and rising to 55% after his re-election, President Obama’s job-approval rating has fallen back. 43% of people in the most recent Pew Research poll approved of Obama’s job performance, while 51% disapproved; four years earlier, the split was about even (46%-45%).
  • Americans’ views of both major parties have dropped slightly since 2010. But while views on the Democrats now are split pretty evenly (47% favorable, 46% unfavorable), more than half of Americans (54%) view the Republicans unfavorably, versus only 38% with a favorable view. Not that general sentiment predicts how people will actually vote: A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that even people who don’t trust either party plan to vote Republican next week. And as Gerald Seib noted in The Wall Street Journal, “the slice of the country that now trends most Republican … coincides nicely with the slice of America that traditionally is more likely to vote in any midterm.”