In a measure of how narrowly balanced these competing forces have left the country, respondents split exactly in half on Obama’s job performance—47 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove. This placed Obama well above George W. Bush in most surveys at this point in his second term, but behind Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
This latest Heartland Monitor Poll marks the 25th survey in the series, which began in April 2009. For this poll, we have reprised some of the most important questions asked earlier, mostly from the survey’s first two years, to document how American attitudes have changed, or haven’t, since the depths of the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.
For Democrats hoping to keep control of the White House, unease with the country’s direction and with the pace of economic recovery represents the survey’s most ominous finding. On the broadest question, just 25 percent of those surveyed said they believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 62 percent said it’s on the wrong track. In the 10 Heartland Monitor polls during Obama’s second term, only twice has even 30 percent of adults said the country was on the right track.
Likewise, the verdict on the state of the national economy is still downbeat. Just 21 percent of those surveyed described the economy as excellent or good, while 78 percent called it fair or poor. Those numbers have barely budged in a year, although by most measures the economy has improved. Democrats (at 39 percent) are considerably more likely than independents (16 percent) or Republicans (just 12 percent) to give the economy an excellent or good grade; yet fully 61 percent of Democrats rate it as only fair or poor.
The poll’s respondents were only slightly more optimistic about the economy’s future course. Only 27 percent said they expect it to get better over the next year, while 24 percent expect it to deteriorate. (Forty-four percent expect no change.) Since September 2013, the proportion of adults who’ve expected the economy to improve over the next year has varied only between that low of 27 percent and a high of 32 percent.
Americans offer far more bullish, though still equivocal, assessments of their personal finances—45 percent of those polled described their financial situation as excellent or good, while 54 percent termed it fair or poor. Those numbers have varied little in recent years; since September 2013, positive responses to this question have ranged from 42 percent to a high of 45 percent in the latest poll. On this question, whites (at 48 percent) are much more likely than nonwhites (at 35 percent) to say their finances are excellent or good.
Several other questions in the survey filled out the picture of an economy that has left many families feeling as if they’re living on the edge.
The most positive finding was that 37 percent of respondents agreed they “can live comfortably and save an adequate amount for retirement or other needs.” That is 10 percentage points higher than in July 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the Great Recession. The share that said they “find it hard to make ends meet every month” has declined from 22 percent to 15 percent since 2009. Even so, about half of those surveyed (46 percent now, compared to 50 percent in 2009) still said, “I can get by every month, but I find it difficult to save and invest, whether for retirement or other purposes.”