As Washington gears up for another round of budget negotiations, a new poll offers a glimpse of who most Americans truly support on the economy. Released Wednesday, the Gallup poll shows the president enjoying more support in his handling of the economy than any other national figure, with 57% of Americans confident that Obama will “do the right thing” for the economy, the highest the president has scored in two years.
As for Congress, 48% of Americans trust Democratic leaders, the highest they have scored since 2009 and up from a decade-low of 39% in 2012. Republican leadership, on the other hand, has earned the trust of only39% of Americans in its handling of the economy, with 58% saying they have little or almost no confidence that they will “do the right thing.”
Increasing public support for Obama has also coincided with positive trends in economic and consumer confidence. Bloomberg has reported a steady growth of consumer confidence sentiment since the beginning of the year. Gallup’s economic confidence index, though still negative at -13, is a vast improvement over the low of -53 that was measured in mid-2011 and the -29 we saw in 2012 (the index is measured between a theoretical low of -100 and a high of 100).
Despite consumer confidence and national support for the Obama administration, some experts believe that these numbers may have little to do with the actual state of the economy. The first few months of the year, when the economy was growing at a steady pace, saw the president’s numbers decline. Now, high public trust in his economic judgment follows a disappointing March jobs report and a recent slowing in the stock market. The president’s highest score in economic confidence, a 2009 peak of 71%, took place at the height of the recession, when the economy was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month. If who America trusts on the economy does not depend on how the economy is doing, is there a better indicator?
One place to look may be how Americans feel about Washington gridlock. The biggest fluctuation in public confidence in Obama’s economic policy occurred during the recent round of sequestration wars in March and February, which culminated in a failure to avoid automatic spending cuts. The president lost his large lead, losing up to 10 percentage points, while the GOP picked up 4 or 5 points. The president and GOP were also largely equal during the 2011 “grand bargain” negotiations which led to the sequestration compromise. That summer, a record high 16% of Americans trusted neither to do the right thing for the economy. Government dysfunction seems to equalize public confidence in Obama and Republican’s economic policies.
However, Obama’s largest leads have also been during periods of high political gridlock. During the December round of sequestration negotiations last year, where the GOP refused to accept the inevitability of tax increases, the president led Congressional Republicans in public trust of his economic policy by 18%. In March 2011, when the GOP forced the country to the edge of a government shutdown, Obama enjoyed a 12-point lead over Republicans in public confidence.
If both Obama’s largest and smallest leads have occurred during similar episodes of political gridlock, what does the president’s recent two-year high in public confidence for his economic policies tell us? These figures rarely relate to actual economic trends, but they are a useful metric for understanding who Americans are supporting at in budget negotiations.
During these economic times, both the president and Republicans can hardly be expected to score high approval ratings for their handling of the economy, but this poll does allow us to compare, between two evils, who the American people are supporting. As we go into another round of budget negotiations, the clear winner, in the blue corner, is the president.