Cockeyed Optimists or Self-Fulfilling Prophets?

  • June 17, 2009
  • By Jodie T. Allen

Out here on the frontiers of American public opinion, a faint but discernible breath of optimism is dusting the plains. This, even as economic experts warn of a slow recovery from the current severe recession and a record number of Americans express dissatisfaction with their current financial situation. Are average Americans prescient predictors of the state of the economy? Incurable believers in a better tomorrow? Or carriers in an epidemic of Obama Optimism?

The question is brought into focus by findings from recent surveys that show modest but consistent improvement in expectations about the nation's economy. One example: A May Pew Research survey found more than half of the public (53%) saying the government is on the right track in handling the nation's economic problems, whereas as recently as mid-January, only 31% held that view. Also in May, only 31% of the public reported hearing mostly bad news about the economy; at the end of last year a massive 80% said so.

Pew Research's latest poll shows slightly more than half (52%) still rate the nation's economic conditions poor, but that is down from 68% in March and 71% in February, while 63% expect their own financial situation to improve at least some over the next year.

Read the full report Cockeyed Optimists or Self-Fulfilling Prophets? on the Pew Research Center's Web site.