How Much Do Americans Blame Washington for Their Economic Woes?

People’s perceptions may not be exactly accurate, but they can still hurt the economy.


It’s an old story by now: Americans aren’t feeling too positive about the federal government. A new National Journal poll reports approval ratings that would be laughable if they weren’t so grim, like the fact that only nine percent of Americans feel okay with Congress’s job performance, while a paltry one percent thinks the economy is in excellent shape.

But the poll also revealed something else: Many Americans blame the government for their personal financial problems, including how often they get raises and how easily they can get a loan. When asked for their opinion on how “the federal budget situation” affects their personal financial lives, 62 percent of respondents characterized it as “negative” or “somewhat negative.” Among those who saw the budget situation as negative, the top two reasons cited were “higher taxes” and “fewer opportunities for jobs or pay increase.”

For a few of these questions, people's views of how government affects their personal lives aren't exactly accurate, but that almost makes the poll more interesting in terms of what it says about the economy. Here are a couple of examples:

POLL QUESTION: In your opinion, did President Obama’s economic policies run up a record federal deficit while failing to significantly improve the economy?

When asked this question, 52 percent of respondents said yes. Most economists would say this isn't as simple as a yes or no question, though. Whether or not the president “significantly improved” the economy is subjective, but during his time in office, the deficit has actually been cut in half. Here’s Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post in September:

On Feb. 23, 2009, President Obama made this statement at the opening of a “fiscal responsibility” summit:

”This administration has inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit—the largest in our nation’s history—and our investments to rescue our economy will add to that deficit in the short term. … And that’s why today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office.”

The benchmark would be $1.3 trillion, and half of that would be $650 billion.

For the 2013 fiscal year, CBO in May projected that the deficit would shrink to $642 billion, which is obviously a huge drop. That means Obama would meet his pledge four years and eight months after he took office.

Even though the deficit has been cut in half over the last two years, it is true that the deficit reached record levels during the Obama administration, especially during the peak of the financial crisis. Most economists agree that this helped the economy, though—stimulus spending offered much-needed relief to an ailing private sector.  

POLL QUESTION: Which do you believe is the most likely impact of a large federal budget deficit and debt on your personal financial situation?

National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll

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Emma Green is the assistant managing editor of, where she also writes about religion and culture.

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